by Ryan Namdar
Inclusivity in our classrooms does not just mean that we have a diverse student body, but also that we cater the learning environment to students’ unique needs.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), 1 in 20 students is affected by Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which means there are students with SPD in every classroom who would benefit from accommodations and support.
I should know because I am one of them. In elementary and middle school, it was nearly impossible for me to focus with the deafening whir of the old projector, the overwhelming urge to get up and move, and the bright flicker of the fluorescent lights. For the majority of students, these sensations could easily be relegated to the background of sensory perception, but for me, they made the classroom experience excruciating, a nervous restlessness constantly flowing through my veins.
Fortunately, my parents took me to an occupational therapist who diagnosed and then taught me techniques to help my brain filter out the extra-sensory information. I learned how to calm my nervous system and improve my concentration so I could academically and socially thrive.
I saw firsthand how seemingly small accommodations could make a tremendous difference, and so I have dedicated myself to helping to transform the classroom environment for other special needs students.
Now a certified inclusion ambassador, I am an impassioned advocate for more extensive learning resources in the classroom so that other students can also get the most out of their education and reach their full potential.
So, what types of accommodations are needed?
First, teachers should provide students with SPD, or related processing and hyperactivity disorders, with fidget toys or wiggle seats. This will provide them with an effective outlet for excess energy so that they can release tension without being disruptive to other students.
Classrooms should also have rubber bands below the desks or “foot bouncers” so that kids can regulate themselves, putting pressure against the band or moving their feet against it as they self-soothe.
If these resources are made widely available, then students with SPD do not have to feel singled out, exposed, or excluded. Teachers should also offer flexible working environments, such as allowing students to do in-class work on clipboards while they move around the classroom or to take “brain breaks” so that they can stretch or walk around. This creates a warm, safe, and welcoming atmosphere where students learn from an early age that it’s important to be empathetic and open-minded to each other’s differences.
Moreover, teachers should strive to incorporate sensory activities into their lesson plans, such as spelling out words in shaving cream, learning the formation of numbers in colored sand, or finding hidden words in a bowl of rice to decode.
These activities help to develop and train students’ sensory systems while incorporating important educational content.
Ultimately, the environment we’re in impacts the way we think and feel in our space. Everything from the layout of the classroom, the design of the curricula, to the variety of resources available determines whether students will feel comfortable and how well they will perform.
Thus, we must be deliberate and thoughtful about creating truly inclusive academic learning environments so that all students can feel a genuine sense of belonging and intellectually excel.