Sensory Need and The IEP

iep Feb 10, 2023

Sensory needs and the IEP

Most people are familiar with the five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. However, did you know that there are actually eight senses? 


The three additional senses are 

-proprioception (the sense of body position)

-vestibular (the sense of movement)

- interoception (the sense of bodily internal cues)


People with sensory processing disorder (SPD) have difficulty interpreting and responding to sensory information. This can make everyday activities – such as getting dressed, eating, or going to school – very difficult and overwhelming.


Fortunately, occupational therapists (OTs) are uniquely qualified to help people with SPD. 


OTs use a variety of strategies and interventions to help people with SPD function in their daily lives. If you are a parent or educator of a child with SPD, it is important to understand the sensory needs of your student. Keep reading to learn more about the sensory needs of special education students and the role of occupational therapists!

Sensory needs of special ed students


The needs of special education students are unique and vary from student to student. Some students may have more difficulty with vision, while others may struggle with hearing.


 Similarly, a student’s proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses may be weak or over- or under-sensitive. SPD may cause a student to withdraw and avoid certain situations due to overwhelming sensory input. 


For instance, a student may avoid loud, crowded places due to sensory overload. Others may be particularly sensitive to certain foods or textures. Sensory-friendly environments and accommodations will help special education students feel safe and reduce sensory overload. Furthermore, educators and parents should be aware that some behaviors exhibited by children with SPD may be related to sensory processing issues. For instance, stimming (self-stimulatory behaviors) may help an overwhelmed student self-regulate and cope with sensory overload.


What is an OT's responsibility?


Occupational therapists (OTs) are uniquely qualified to serve special education students. 


OTs have the skills and expertise to evaluate, diagnose, and treat students with sensory processing disorders. A well-trained OT will use evidence-based techniques to design and implement interventions to improve a student’s functioning in school and other areas of life. 


Specifically, an OT will assess a student’s abilities and needs in various settings. They may observe a student in the classroom and home environment to determine how their sensory needs might be impacting their academic performance or daily activities. They may then use the information gathered during the assessment to formulate a plan tailored to the individual student.


How can OTs help meet sensory needs?

Occupational therapists can help meet the sensory needs of special education students in various ways. 


First, they can help design and implement a sensory diet tailored to the individual student. A sensory diet is a repetitive set of activities aimed at helping the student self-regulate and manage their sensory needs.


 For example, a student may need calm sensory input to help them stay on task. An OT may recommend activities such as deep pressure massage or taking a few minutes in a quiet, dimly lit room. 


Additionally, an OT can provide real-world strategies to the family and teacher on how to assist the student in various settings.


Can Occupational Therapists Write Sensory-Based Goals For Students On Individualized Education


Yes, occupational therapists can write sensory-based goals for students on individualized education programs (IEPs). In fact, sensory-based goals are an important part of an IEP for any student with a sensory processing disorder.


Sensory-based goals are designed to help students improve their ability to process and respond to sensory information. They may include goals such as increasing the student's ability to tolerate certain textures, smells, or sound volumes.

Examples of sensory-friendly accommodations


In addition to providing strategies, an OT can recommend sensory-friendly accommodations to help the student feel safe and successful in their environment. 


Some examples of sensory-friendly accommodations may include noise-canceling headphones or earmuffs, fidget toys or cushions to provide calming input, dim lighting to reduce sensory overload, and a quiet area where the student can go when feeling overwhelmed. 


Furthermore, an OT can explain the reasons behind their recommended accommodations and provide assistance in implementing them.


The Bottom Line: 


It is essential to understand the unique sensory needs of special education students. Occupational therapists are uniquely qualified to help assess, diagnose, and treat sensory processing disorders so that students can access the same learning opportunities as their typically developing peers. 


OTs can provide sensory-friendly accommodations and real-world strategies to help students manage their sensory needs better. With the help of an OT, special education students can reach their highest level of physical and cognitive functioning.


Does your child have an IEP? 

Do you need IEP support? 

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