ASD, ADHD & SPD – The Implications for the Child in the Classroom

When a child has been diagnosed with; Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Anxiety.  They often also faces the challenges of Sensory Processing Dysregulation. ADHD and ASD can look a lot like each other. Children with either condition can have problems focusing. They can be impulsive or have a hard time communicating. They may have trouble with schoolwork and with relationships Although they share many of the same symptoms, the two are distinct conditions.  ASD are a series of related developmental disorders that can affect language skills, behaviour, social interactions, and the ability to learn. ADHD impacts the way the brain grows and develops.

Sensory Processing Dysregulation is when children seem to have trouble handling the information their senses take in—things like sound, touch, taste, sight, and smell. There are also two other less well-known senses that can be affected—the first is a sense of body awareness, while the second involves movement, balance, and coordination. Also, children with sensory issues can be oversensitive to input, under sensitive to input, or both. While sensory processing issues are not a learning disorder or official diagnosis, they can make it hard for children to succeed at school. For instance, overly sensitive kids respond easily to sensory stimulation and can find it overwhelming. They may:

  • Be unable to tolerate bright lights and loud noises like ambulance sirens
  • Refuse to wear clothing because it feels scratchy or irritating-even after cutting out all the tags and labels-or shoes because they feel “too tight.”
  • Be distracted by background noises that others don’t seem to hear
  • Be fearful of surprise touch, and avoid hugs and cuddling even with familiar adults
  • Be overly fearful of swings and playground equipment
  • Often have trouble knowing where their body is in relation to other objects or people
  • Bump into people and things and appear clumsy
  • Have trouble sensing the amount of force they are applying; for example, they may rip the paper when erasing, pinch too hard or slam down objects.
  • Run off, or bolt, when they are overwhelmed to get away from whatever is distressing them
  • Have extreme meltdowns when overwhelmed

Meanwhile, under sensitive kids want to seek out more sensory stimulation. They may:

  • Have a constant need to touch people or textures, even when it is not socially acceptable
  • Not understand personal space even when kids the same age are old enough to understand it
  • Have an extremely high tolerance for pain
  • Not understand their own strength
  • Be very fidgety and unable to sit still
  • Love jumping, bumping, and crashing activities
  • Enjoy deep pressure like tight bear hugs
  • Crave fast, spinning and/or intense movement
  • Love being tossed in the air and jumping on furniture and trampolines.

These behaviours can be confused for a child who is deliberately choosing to misbehave and manifest inappropriate behaviours, when in fact they are seeking sensory input. Many of the behaviours of children with sensory problems overlap with symptoms of ADHD, from trouble sitting still or concentrating to melting down when they are expected to make a transition from one activity (especially one they are enjoying) to another.

Many children in a classroom setting experiences these traits typical of their disorders, however, with reasonable accommodations and modifications these can be minimised.  The aim of the modifications needs to be to diminish heightened sense of anxiety and to assist them to co-regulate their emotions.

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