COVID-19 has had an immeasurable impact on families, especially those of children with special needs. With the pandemic halting all in-person services, children have had no choice but to engage in online learning. This transition to remote learning has presented many challenges for both children and caregivers. Engaging in hours of learning in front of a computer as well as in the home environment has had an effect on children’s sensory processing. Sensory processing is defined as “our ability to take in sensory information from our environment, organize, and interpret it, and produce an appropriate response”.
Changes in the learning environment undoubtedly have an impact on our 7 sensory systems: auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, vestibular, and proprioception. These changes often bring difficulties with a child’s ability to stay focused, calm, and regulated during online learning.
Good news! There are simple adjustments that you can make to your child’s workspace and learning environment that can help to improve focus and attention. Some of these adjustments include:
- Setting up your child’s workspace in a quieter area of the house
- Simplifying the environment by de-cluttering and removing unnecessary items
- Providing alternative seating options (e.g., yoga ball, lying prone on elbows, chair on wheels, bean bag).
- Providing additional visual cues (e.g., timer, visual schedule of daily activities, “in/then” board, checklists, incentive/reward system)
- Providing a desk fidget (e.g., shoelace with beads, scrunchie, rubber band, stress ball)
- Providing noise canceling headphones or quiet/classical/rhythmic music during homework/reading time
- Allowing frequent movement breaks (e.g., dance, run in place, animal walks (e.g., crab walks, bear walks, bunny hops, frog jumps, wheelbarrow walks, yoga, create an obstacle course)
- Engaging your child in heavy work activities (e.g., pushing a ball (yoga or medicine) across the room, playing catch with a pillow or ball, baking or cooking (scoop, pour, mix, roll), art projects (finger painting, dot markers, rip, crumple, & glue paper), hiding small items in a sensory bin & digging through to find them).
Since every child is unique, feel free to try out these strategies to discover what works best for your child!