Thursday, April 29, 2010

Montessori Education for Children With Sensory Processing Disorder

This is the first of a four-part series. We hope that it will be of value to our Montessori community of readers.

NAMC montessori education for children with sensory processing disorder girl on tire swing
One day, when my son was two years old, he suddenly announced that he didn’t eat meat anymore. “I’ll eat it again when I’m a man.” My husband and I were pretty shocked, but thought it was just a phase he was going through and pretty much laughed it off. After all, we weren't vegetarians and toddlers explore and exert their independence through the things they can control, like choosing which foods to eat. As a Montessori mom, I decided to follow my child, and to carefully observe as he made this choice.

Almost overnight, his once wide range of tastes became very narrow. He cut off most food with the exception of foods with sharp, pungent tastes (extra sharp Cheddar and Parmesan cheese, natural peanut butter, and ketchup) and crunchy textures (bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, grapes, romaine lettuce hearts). We thought he was experiencing the “picky eater” stage and would soon outgrow it and become the grazing omnivore once more.

Montessori Education for Children With Sensory Processing Disorder 

Twelve years later, I am surprised to say that not much has changed. Another thing happened about this time. I started noticing when we went to the park, he always begged to go on the swing, but then immediately wanted off. As he grew older, he preferred swinging by lying on his tummy; he never wanted to sit upright. He became fearful of unknown staircases and escalators, refusing to go on them unless he was held. Learning to roller skate and ride a bike were difficult, too. As much as he wanted to be like the other children, he just couldn't do it. He complained about being ‘tired’ and wanting to be carried on short outings. Again, I wasn't worried – I stayed true to the philosophy of Montessori and followed my child. After all, he knew better than I what his needs were and there were so many other, more important issues.

It wasn't until the summer of fourth grade when an acquaintance started telling me about her work as an occupational therapist did I begin to question what was shaping my son’s world. She asked if I had ever had heard of Sensory Integration Dysfunction (now referred to as Sensory Processing Disorder). I had to admit that I had not. She gave me a copy of Carol Kranowitz’s book, The Out of Sync Child. What I read described my child to a “T”.

Children who React Differently
As Montessori teachers and parents, we have the opportunity to interact with many different children. Each child is unique, with their own individual personalities and ‘quirks’. However, some seem a bit more ‘quirky’ than others. There is the child who:
    NAMC montessori education for children with sensory processing disorder child climbing stairs
  • refuses to wear socks no matter what weather because they make her feel ‘trapped’
  • covers his ears as if in pain at the slightest noise (vacuum, telephone, airplane overhead)
  • wears her clothes inside out because the seams are so rough and irritating to her skin
  • must lay his head down all the time
  • is ‘too tired’ to walk by himself
  • can’t stand to be held, hugged, or touched, or conversely, needs to be held and touched all the time
  • must always have something to chew on, even after outgrowing the “oral” stage of development
  • gets carsick 5 minutes after leaving the house
  • is repulsed by rough/sticky/wet/soft clammy sensations
  • gags on food of different textures/temperatures/tastes
  • has a sense of smell that is far more developed than anyone else around
  • doesn't realize he’s been hurt or is bleeding
  • spins for hours without ever getting dizzy
  • is extremely sensitive to light and prefers playing in semi-dark to dark rooms.
Dr. A. Jean Ayres, PhD, was the first person to describe her theory of sensory integration dysfunction, now known as Sensory Processing Disorder. SPD is difficult to diagnose because many of the markers coexist with other disorders, including ADHD, autism, aspergers, fragile X, and several others. Through subsequent Montessori blogs, we will discuss the signs of SPD and how the Montessori environment is suited for children experiencing SPD.

Related NAMC blogs:
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, April 29, 2010.


  1. I have several friends whose children have SPD, but I haven't seen it described in detail like this. It's very helpful to know the specific issues a child may have with this disorder.

    Also I think it's very helpful that you are sharing your own experiences - that helps make it more "real". Looking forward to the next installment!

  2. Thank you, Lori. It's true, having a child with SPD has made me more aware and "in tune" to other children who demonstrate similiar characteristics. I hope you enjoy the rest of the series!

  3. Great to see you spreading information about SPD in the classroom! Please check out my book on SPD in the classroom -- maybe it will be helpful for you. : )

    Looking forward to hearing more,
    This is Gabriel Making Sense of School

  4. Michelle:
    After reading your blog, I remember a friend of mine explaining SPD to me a few years ago, as his son was afflicted with this. This is very informative and interesting information and I too look forward to reading the rest of the series.

  5. Dear Michelle, Thanks for blogging about how descriptions of children in "The Out-of-Sync Child" fit your child to a T. I haven't met your boy, but I have been privileged to teach and screen children like him. Each one helps me understand better and better how SPD affects individuals. You may be interested to know that this very day, May 4, another book for parents has just been published. Joye Newman (a perceptual motor therapist) and I co-authored "Growing an In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop, Learn and Grow" (Perigee). Our new "" website will go up any minute now. Please come visit. -- With warm regards, Carol Kranowitz

  6. Carol, thank you for reading the blog and for the information about the new book and website. I will be looking into both of them very soon! I know that reading "The Out-of-Sync Child" has really helped me become a more tolerant, understanding parent and teacher. I'm sure your new publications will be just as helpful.


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!