May 2023 preschool article sensory processing
Missions Discipleship

Addressing Preschoolers with Special Needs: Sensory Issues

Clinically, “Sensory Integration Disorder (SID) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder that results from the brain’s inability to integrate certain information received from the body’s sensory systems.”¹

Preschoolers with sensory challenges react in extreme ways to what most experience as normal things. For example, a child with SID/SPD may be overwhelmed by the odor of a banana and vomit.

Sensory issues come in many forms and at varying intensities. Preschoolers may be hypersensitive (overresponsive) or hyposensitive (underresponsive) to something, resulting in avoiding an activity.

Some common areas of sensitivity in SID/SPD are:

Touch: Fabric textures annoy the child. Child reacts badly to unanticipated touch.

Sight: “Hectic” environment overstimulates the child. Child concentrates on minute details and misses the big picture.

Hearing: Noise generally irritates the child. Child complains of noise “hurting,” and is disturbed by noises others ignore or may not hear some sounds.

Taste: Child is oversensitive to how things taste, is often a picky eater, and may taste or chew inedible items.

Smell: Smells overwhelm the child. Strong odors, good or bad, bring intense reactions.

Movement: Fear, or lack of fear, may be extreme. Heights or playground equipment may be avoided, or the child may seek constant thrills.

Body position: Child has a lack of awareness of where their body is in relation to others. Child may appear clumsy.¹

Because of these sensitivities, preschoolers’ conduct often reflects their pain, frustration, and fear. Behaviors may include aggression, withdrawal, avoidance, fear, tears, or complete shutdown.

So how do we address these issues in our preschool classrooms?

Know your preschoolers. Ask parents questions about what sensitivities their preschoolers have and plan accordingly.

Be proactive with your classroom space.

    • Make sure your meeting space is simple. Avoid overstimulating decorations.
    • Make sure you have good ventilation for smells and comfort.
    • Provide space for preschoolers to be active without having to touch each other.
    • Provide a quiet space for preschoolers to calm themselves should their sensitivities flare.

Plan inclusion.

    • Create experiences for preschoolers that are fun but do not interfere with their sensitivities.
    • Provide options for preschoolers so they can choose activities or avoid if they need to.
    • Avoid activities with loud or sudden sounds.

Prepare explanations.

    • Know how you are going to explain behaviors to preschoolers when they ask.
    • Choose inclusive language.
    • Use questions as teachable moments to help preschoolers understand that God made each of us different for His special purposes. Therefore, differences are seen as good things.

As always, love is the focus. Meeting preschoolers where they are and providing environments where they feel safe and understood shows preschoolers that they are loved. Once they know they are loved, the foundation is laid to teach them about God’s love and care.

by Gina Smith

¹“Sensory Integration Disorder.” LANC, UK. Accessed April 18, 2023.

Disclaimer: The information shared on this page is not meant to diagnose or treat a neurological and psychological disorder. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.

This blog is designed to help leaders as they teach preschoolers with special needs. The information provided includes tips and strategies but in no way equips leaders to diagnose preschoolers, as preschoolers may not be diagnosed with special needs until they reach elementary school and then only by a health professional. Use the information and suggestions to help you lead preschoolers to enjoy Mission Friends.