Sensory Processing in the School Environment


Sensory processing differences occur in up to 97% of children on the autism spectrum and continue across the lifespan (Dellapiazza, 2018). Sensory processing differences are highly unique to the individual.

Some students are:

♦  Hypersensitive: they experience overwhelmingly more sensory input than others. This can result in sensory avoidance behaviour (trying to get away from this sensory input).

♦  Hyposensitive: they are much less responsive to particular sensations and need more of that sensory stimulus to recognize the sensation. This can result in sensory seeking behaviour.

Sensory processing differences can present a variety of challenges for autistic students in the classroom environment. Students may have difficulty processing information, paying attention or sitting still for extended periods, writing, responding to questions, keeping organized, and staying regulated.

The following checklist provides a list of evidence-based recommendations for the physical set-up of a classroom that considers a wide range of sensory differences and will set up all students for success. Remember that Occupational Therapists are professionals that work in many schools across British Columbia, who can support individualized sensory processing needs of students.

Sensory-Friendly Classroom Checklist


General Considerations

♦  There is a designated calm space within the classroom or near the classroom that has limited sensory input for breaks.

♦  There is a variety of sensory equipment available to all students (i.e., footrests, wobble stools, noise-reduction headphones, fidget toys, weighted lap pads, therapy balls for seating).

♦  Students are alerted in advance to any changes of room set up, whenever possible.


Visual Considerations

♦  Natural lighting or low lighting (i.e., lamps) is used, whenever possible.

♦  Students are allowed to wear a hat or sunglasses inside if the lights are unable to be changed.

♦  Non-essential decorations on walls are minimal.

♦  Essential visual materials are displayed at students’ eye level.

♦  The wall behind main instruction area is kept undecorated; only visual supports that are essential to the current lesson are posted here.


Movement Considerations

♦  Pathways throughout the room are free and avoid congestion.

♦  There are clear, separate “zones” in the classroom (i.e., bookshelves or furniture used as dividers, coloured tape on the floor to show where each space begins and ends).

♦  Dedicated opportunities for movement (“movement breaks”) are scheduled throughout the day and provided on an as-needed basis.

♦  There are flexible seating or alternative seating choices.


Auditory Considerations

♦  Overall classroom noise is kept to a minimum.

♦  There is a visual support to alert students of volume levels.

♦  There is a clear transition signal or attention signal (i.e., chime or bell).

♦  Calming music.


Organizational Considerations

♦  Classroom is clean, organized, and free of repair needs.

♦  Students have dedicated places to keep their belongings.

♦  Learning materials are easily accessible to all students.

♦  Closed storage containers are used for materials and resources that are not to be accessed by students.

♦  Seating arrangement considers the individual needs of students and the “micro-environments” of the classroom (i.e., lighting differences, temperature differences, view of the instructional area, noise level of different areas, etc.).

♦  Visual schedule is posted at students’ eye level.

♦  Visual timers or clocks are used to display time until next transition.


Olfactory Considerations

♦  A scent-free environment is upheld as best as possible.



For more information:

For more information about Sensory Friendly Classrooms,

watch our POPARD video Sensory Friendly Classroom.


Additional Resources:

Printable resource available in Downloadable Resources



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