Q | One of my students has a diagnosis of sensory proces-sing issues and he seeks stimulus by hugging others. How canI help him respond more appropriately?
A | Your student’s occupational therapist should be able to help you develop strategies for the classroom environment, but here are a few possibilities the therapist will likely suggest: If he needs tactile input, try providing him with a squeeze ball that he can keep in his hand to use when necessary. Allow him to satisfy his sensory needs by going outside the classroom for brief periods of physical exercise. Some kids even wear certain types of garments that provide them with sensory input and help keep them calm in class.
A bigger issue, I think, is getting a better understanding of this child’s drive for wanting to hug other children at inappropriate times. This can obviously be a sensory-seeking behavior, but it also speaks to a problem with understanding social norms, boundaries, and personal space; it may also be a matter of impulse control. It’s great that you’re thinking about what you can do to satisfy your student’s sensory needs, but there may be other issues that require investigation. A discussion with his parents and therapist should help you develop a plan to address these.
Question for a child psychologist?
Michael Rosenthal, Ph.D., is a pediatric neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org) with expertise in the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents from preschool through early adulthood.
Illustration: Brian Rea