Six Things To Consider When Creating A Sensory-Friendly Classroom

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In our last discussion, we started talking about how sensory processing and dysfunction can ruin a kid’s day, and inhibit their ability to be successful in school (and life).

There are lots of different ways to set up your classroom that will improve your students’ ability to feel safe, which will also increase their participation in class, and enhance their learning.  Isn’t that what we’re all here for, anyway?  To teach kids?

1. Lighting

Though standard in most official buildings, fluorescent lighting “flickers” to many people with ASD.  Incandescent or indirect lighting can be much more calming; and give less of a strobe light effect.  Natural light is excellent, but be careful about the size and number of your windows – too much going on outside can be quite distracting.  Curtains that gently diffuse light are a nice touch.

2.  Color

There was a reason that McDonalds restaurants used to be bright orange and yellow.  It’s a very exciting and invigorating color scheme, which was meant to draw people in, but so grating so as to keep you from lingering.  Increases table turn-over.  Marketing brilliance.  The same idea works with paint on the walls in the classroom.  Earthy, neutral tones are best for keeping overstimulation to a minimum.

3.  Seating

Kids like Jake need good sensory input from their joints to keep them from getting that “floating in space” feeling.  Your students’ feet should touch the floor.  Not all fourth graders are built equally.  It’s an age where you can have a 4″2 kid and a 5″6 kid who are both 9.  Maybe even more important than chair height is what kind of chair.  Kids with ASD, and our post-graduate PT class, can often do better when sitting on a physioball, or a compliant disk of some kind.  Being made to subconsciously use muscles to maintain balance can be a nice bonus in maintaining focus.

4.  Noise

Obviously, calm, soothing environments are better than loud ones.  Have you ever taken a test or read a book in WalMart during mid-December?  There’s a reason you turn down the radio when you’re lost and looking for an address.  Jake uses Winchester headphones to dull out sounds, and this lets him divert his energy to things like “attention.”

5.  Clutter/Organization

One of my favorite classrooms in high school was the one where the teacher treated his walls like a year-long collage project.  He would start in September with bare walls, and by June they’d be COVERED with pictures of things he found interesting.  Cool for me; a nightmare for Jake.  Jake likes to know what’s coming next.  We’ve had great success using a visual schedule put up somewhere in the classroom.  Jake’s teachers have said that this helps other kids, too.

6.  Sensory Nook/Bucket

It’s nice to have a place in the back of the classroom (or in your SpEd room) where a kid can go to regroup.  There might be an upholstered chair, a swing, a bean-bag chair, maybe a foam roller or two.  Also, kids with ASD aren’t the only ones who seem to benefit from noise-cancelling headphones and fidgets.  You’d think having little balls of Play-Doh and Koosh balls would be distracting in and of themselves, but the kids who need them use them; and the kids that don’t – won’t.   Set up some ground rules and enjoy the benefits.


Have you ever been to a course or conference as an adult?  Most people in the audience click pens, crochet, work on crossword puzzles, or bounce their leg. Everyone sips coffee or tea.  We grownups use these skills as a means to keep focused on the information presented. However, we expect children to sit upright in class with their feet on the floor and they’re fingers laced in front of them.  We don’t expect this of ourselves (as grownups), so why do we expect this of our children?  There are many tips and tricks that you can use with students to better their focus and attention.  Use the OT in your school to help you come up with ideas for sensory friendly environments or to help a particular student.  Also, we at BigCalfGuy have become very good at troubleshooting.  If there is a specific issue you need help with, don’t hesitate to ask and we will help you brainstorm.

Related:  Helping your child with autism succeed in school.

Related:  Parents/Teachers: same team.

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1 comment

    • Wanda Bourgeois on October 2, 2013 at 8:00 pm
    • Reply

    Ryan, yup its me again,

    Gabby’s 2nd grade teacher had a little pup tent in her room, along with bean bag & other spaces and the kids had desks but if they were more comfortable she let them move to another place. She also got the school board to approve chewing gum for math & testing she brought documentation that chewing increased blood flow to the brain and increased focus & test scores. Worked with families to benefit the kids.

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