Children who are growing and developing while facing the struggles of sensory processing disorder need support from their parents and teachers to ensure a nourishing and appropriate learning environment. Montessori programs provide an ideal structure for a child living with SPD. Research different Montessori schools in your area, schedule school visits and observe various classrooms to understand what each environment would specifically offer for your child.
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Carol Kranowitz, author of The Out-of-Sync Child, defines sensory processing disorder as "inefficient neurological processing of information received through the senses, causing problems with learning, development and behavior." Common symptoms of a child suffering from SPD include, but are not limited to, extreme sensitivity to slight sounds, severe sensitivity to light, frequent bouts of carsickness, intolerance of specific food textures and flavors, acute reactivity to clothing touching or rubbing on the body, agitation when being held or touched or constantly needing to be held or touched. SPD is a neurological problem that medication cannot fix. A family-centered approach along with occupational therapy that incorporates sensory integration techniques is a common method for treating a child with SPD.
The development of the senses is a fundamental aspect to every child's journey through the early years of life. Supporting a child's sensory development improves energy levels and focus and assists the child with learning to self-regulate behaviors. Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method of education, postulated that children primarily learn through absorbing sensory information from their environments. The sensory materials in a Montessori classroom support whole-brain learning, addressing the developmental needs of the whole child. These materials are especially beneficial to children with SPD because each activity isolates a specific sense. In addition, the Montessori teacher will have awareness of your child's struggle with sensory integration and can adjust materials and lessons based on his specific sensory needs.
The Montessori Classroom
Children with SPD respond positively to a predictable daily routine and sense of order within their environment. The Montessori classroom is designed to facilitate structure, organization and fluidity of movement. The classroom is a prepared environment where every activity serves a specific learning purpose, every material has a designated space on the shelf and behavioral guidelines assist children with developing functional independence. The orderly atmosphere of the Montessori environment will help a child with SPD feel more secure and comfortable. The Montessori philosophy for education also recognizes that every child is unique in their developmental needs. The teacher tailors the curriculum and methodologies to the individual needs of each child, making this a premium choice for a child with SPD.
Practical Life Activities
Some children with SPD struggle with proprioceptive dysfunction, which is difficulty understanding how one's body is positioned in space without visual clues. Signs of proprioceptive dysfunction can include uncoordinated movements, clumsiness, excessive jumping and bouncing, large motor development delays, constant rough play, incessant shaking of the legs and the constant need to be in motion. The Montessori curriculum provides practical life activities that allow children to engage in "heavy work" -- putting their whole body into an activity with a focused purpose. Activities such as lifting and moving furniture for classroom use, sweeping, mopping, washing tables, scrubbing the floor, hammering, gardening activities, shoveling snow in the winter -- these all support the child with SPD by providing ample opportunities to develop muscle memory and gross motor coordination by channeling excessive energy into a focused task.