It is generally held that we have five senses: touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing. We often take for granted the ability to see clearly, to taste good food, to distinguish between right-side-up and upside down. Imagine living in a world where your senses didn't function together, where the information that was sent from your senses to your brain was ‘misinterpreted’ and you didn't experience the world the way others did.
Imagine being told how good something smelled, only to be repulsed by it. Or gagging on something described as “absolutely delicious”. Or being afraid to have your feet leave the ground because that was the only way your body knew it wouldn't float off into space. Or being afraid to grow because that meant getting new clothes that hurt to wear because everything new was too rough for your skin.
Observing Sensory Processing Disorder in the Montessori ClassroomAs strange as it may seem, these are real-life situations that affect children and adults with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Carol Kranowitz, author of The Out-of-Sync Child, defines Sensory Processing Disorder as "inefficient neurological processing of information received through the senses, causing problems with learning, development, and behavior." The simple act of processing sensory information has a major impact on our thoughts, emotions, and actions. The slightest change in how our brain processes information severely impacts our day-to-day living - psychologically, emotionally, academically, and socially. While Sensory Processing Disorder is not categorized as a learning disorder, it can make learning extremely difficult. As Montessorians, then, we must “follow the child” in order to provide the appropriate environment for each child. Here are some key points to consider toward preparing the Montessori environment in order to respond to the child’s needs.
Descriptions of Sensory Processing Functions
Sensory processing dysfunctions are usually categorized by either being hyper or hypo sensitive. That is to say that the senses are either over or under stimulated. An overstimulated child needs less sensory stimulation while the understimulated child requires more.
- Tactile Sense: input from the skin receptors about touch, pressure, temperature, pain, and movement of the hairs on the skin.
- Hypersensitivity– doesn't like to have things or people touch them.
- Hyposensitivity – craves being touch or touching things.
- Vestibular Sense: input from the inner ear about equilibrium, gravitational changes, movement experiences, and position in space.
- Hypersensitivity - fear of movement, heights, and rapid movement.
- Hyposensitivity – needs constant movement, rocks body, loves to jump, hang upside down, swing high and fast.
- Proprioceptive Sense: input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement, and changes in position in space.
- Hypersensitivity– likes bear hugs; likes to be wrapped tightly in blankets at bedtime; grinds teeth; always chewing on something; stomps around rather walking quietly; always banging into things
- Hyposensitive – misjudges weights of objects; drops things; breaks things; seems to do everything with too much force.
- Auditory Sense (not diagnosed hearing problem)
- Hypersensitivity – distracted by noise not noticed by others (fans, humming of lights, mosquito buzzing); frequently asks people to be quiet or to turn down the music; startled by unexpected sounds.
- Hyposensitivity – loves loud things, e.g., radio, tv; talks to self while completing tasks; frequently asks “what?” and needs directions repeated; does not respond to name being called.
- Oral Sense
- Hypersensitivity– extreme food preferences in regards to flavors, textures, temperatures; repulsed by toothpaste & tooth brushing.
- Hyposensitivity – constantly puts things in mouth (after oral sensitive period is over); excessive drooling; food can never have enough flavor.
- Olfactory Sense
- Hypersensitivity – bothered by cooking & household smells; reacts to smells others don’t notice; sickened by bathroom smells, especially public restrooms.
- Hyposensitivity – has difficulty distinguishing between smells; unable to identify objects by smell; does not notice offensive or noxious odors.
- Visual Sense (not diagnosed vision problem)
- Hypersensitivity – covers eyes/cries/gets headache from bright lights; easily distracted by visual stimuli; enjoys playing in the dark; avoids eye contact.
- Hyposensitivity – difficulty controlling eye movement/tracking; focuses on details and unable to see the whole picture; loses place when copying work; sees double; cannot discriminate between patterns and similar pictures, words, letters, and numbers.
Related NAMC blogs:
- Montessori Education: Sensory Processing Disorder Part 1 of 4
- Montessori Education: Sensorial Activities for Sensory Integration – Part 3 of 4
- Montessori Education: Practical Life Activities for Sensory Integration – Part 4 of 4
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, May 5, 2010.