For children with special educational needs (SEN), navigating the world can be a complex and challenging task. Sensory processing disorder (SPD), a common condition in children with SEN, can further complicate this navigation. SPD affects how a child perceives and responds to sensory stimuli, resulting in behaviours that may be concerning to parents, teachers, and caregivers. Understanding these behaviours as a form of communication is vital for supporting children with SEN and SPD.
Behaviour of concern in children with SEN
A behaviour of concern, often referred to as challenging behaviour, is any behaviour that interferes with a child’s learning, social interaction, and mental or physical health. This can encompass a wide range of behaviours, including aggression, self-harm, social withdrawal, and non-compliance. In children with SEN, these behaviours may be amplified due to difficulties in communication, cognitive challenges, or sensory issues.
SPD, a condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and interpreting sensory information, is common in children with SEN. When a child with SPD experiences sensory overload (too much sensory information at once) they may struggle to process the information and respond appropriately. This can lead to behaviours of concern as the child tries to cope with the overwhelming sensory input.
For example, a child with SPD may be hypersensitive to auditory stimuli and find everyday sounds like the hum of a refrigerator or the chatter of a classroom unbearably loud. Unable to effectively communicate their discomfort, they may respond by covering their ears, screaming, or even becoming physically aggressive to escape the noise. On the other hand, a child who is hyposensitive may crave more sensory input and might engage in risk-taking behaviours, such as jumping off furniture, to stimulate their senses.
Understanding behaviour as communication
Recognizing behaviours of concern as a means of communication is key to supporting children with SEN and SPD. A child’s behaviour is often their way of communicating their needs, especially when they lack the ability to express themselves verbally or through other conventional means. For instance, a child displaying self-harming behaviour may be trying to communicate that they are experiencing sensory overload, anxiety, or frustration.
The importance of understanding behaviour
Understanding the link between behaviours of concern and SPD can lead to more effective strategies for managing these behaviours. Once we identify a behaviour as a response to sensory overload, we can take steps to adjust the child’s environment, develop sensory diets, and teach the child adaptive responses to sensory stimuli.
Furthermore, understanding behaviour as communication fosters empathy and patience, which are vital in supporting children with SEN. It helps us approach these children not as problems to be fixed but as individuals with unique needs and experiences.
Children with SEN and SPD face unique challenges that can manifest as behaviours of concern. Recognising these behaviours as a form of communication offers a more empathetic and effective approach to supporting these children. By understanding the sensory issues that drive these behaviours, we can create environments and interventions that meet their sensory needs and promote their overall well-being. It is crucial that educators, parents, and caregivers continue to seek understanding and be sensitive to the messages being communicated through these behaviours. Our understanding and response can make a significant difference in the lives of these children.
Ola Malanska founded Caleidoscope in 2019.