Child Behavior: Sensory Issues and ADHD
Ask Dr. Fernandez
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Adapting for Sensory Issues
Q | I have a fifth grader with sensory issues, and I’ve found that messy art projects or science experiments are out of the question. How can I help him participate in class?
A | First, it’s important to gather as much information as possible. Does your student become distressed by particular textures or scents? Is it the increasing noise level in the classroom during projects? Maybe he can’t keep his hands off the materials? Getting a better understanding of specific triggers will allow you to adjust the environment and tailor the assignments to his needs. Doing so will also allow you to feel more hopeful that art projects and science experiments are possible.
Once you have an idea about the triggers, think of ways you may be able to adjust the classroom environment. For example, if volume is the trigger, enforce quiet work time. If your student is compelled to touch the materials, limit what you set out. If scents are a problem, open a window near him or seat the child by an open door.
Also, you should speak directly with your student. Work with him on a plan to express his distress appropriately or to step back if needed, and consider setting up planned breaks, during which he can leave the room. The most effective solutions come when you think on both a classroom level and an individual level.
Tools for ADHD
Q | I have a child in my class who takes medication for ADHD. Recently, it seems he isn’t responding to it as well as before. What should I do?
A | It’s not uncommon for children with ADHD to benefit from tweaks to their medication regimen. Based on results from the largest-scale study comparing treatments, we know that children with ADHD have three to four medication and/or dosage changes to achieve optimal treatment. We also know that reports from parents and teachers are critically important.
Often, teachers fail to get involved for fear of treading into unknown territory. But your observations are key, so reach out to your student’s parents. Try to be very specific about which behaviors have changed for the worse.
You can also complete a brief rating scale, such as the Swanson, Nolan, and Pelham-IV teacher rating scale (SNAP-IV). This will give your student’s parents and psychopharmacologist detailed information about the symptoms that you are observing. The SNAP-IV scale is free at myadhd.com and is an extremely useful resource. Using a rating scale also helps to provide information about your student relative to similar-age students, so it becomes even clearer how problematic the behaviors are, or are not.
Question for Dr. Fernandez?
Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute.