BrainSTARS: Sensory Processing

Jeanne E. Dise-Lewis, PhD, Margaret Lohr Calvery, PhD, and Hal C. Lewis, PhD, BrainSTARS
BrainSTARS: Sensory Processing

Many sources of stimulation that are interesting or fun for other children, such as bright colors, loud music, and crowds, may be uncomfortable for a child who has difficulty processing sensory information.

Use everyday activities

  • Create a predictable morning routine which includes the following:.
    • Establish a consistent wake-up time.
    • Help your child brush his hair and teeth.
    • Give him chewy, crunchy breakfast items like cereal, bagels, apple slices, granola, and raisins.
    • Allow adequate time for hygiene and eating so that he does not feel pressured or rushed.
  • Support and model active and experiential play rather than passive activities such as Nintendo and computer games.

Change the Environment

  • A child with sensory processing difficulties will be easily over stimulated.   Activities such as rough housing with siblings, hugs, tickling, and wrestling may be aversive and uncomfortable.  Observe his reactions and educate others to respect his unique needs and responses.
  • Provide a warm-up activity prior to a disliked activity (rub your child’s head prior to hair brushing).
  • Use firm pressure rather than light touch when assisting and interacting with your child.
  • Take your child with you to try on new clothes and allow him to choose fabrics that he prefers. Remove tags from the neckbands of clothing. Pre-washed clothing and hand-me-downs may be more comfortable for your child than new clothing.  Washing new clothing multiple times may be necessary to increase your child’s comfort .
  • Create a quiet space where your child can go when he is overexcited, or has trouble calming down.  In this area, put a giant sized bean bag, a tent, sleeping bag, lots of pillows,  “fidget toys” (such as “Koosh” ball, Hacky Sack), books, and quiet games. Gently instruct  your child to use  this area to calm and soothe himself .  It should not be used for  punishment or “time out.”
  • Provide structured physical activities which are not over stimulating:
    • cleaning chalkboards and desks
    • modeling with Play Dough or clay
    • jumping jacks
    • stretching exercises
    • marching to music
    • bouncing on a therapeutic ball
  • If your child puts things in his mouth and chews on them (his pencil eraser, shirt collar, or the stem of his glasses), provide an acceptable alternative such as gum or a piece of hard candy.  Mouthing and chewing behaviors are highly soothing to a child with sensory processing difficulties, and are not easily extinguished
  • Provide opportunities to bounce on a ball or a small trampoline prior to seatwork.
  • A fidget toy on a string or key chain attached to a child’s belt, may help calm and soothe him.  
  • Provide a five minute warning before any transition or change in activity.
  • Try a fat pencil or pencil grip for drawing/ writing activities.
  • Provide a quiet, non-distracting environment for homework.
  • Avoid taking your child out to eat at noisy restaurants and  busy times.
  • Encourage your child to wear sunglasses or a cap if he finds outdoor light too bright.
  • Make sure that environmental lighting is comfortable for him.
  • Let him be the first or the last in line to avoid being bumped by other kids.
  • Seat your student with adequate space between him and classmates.
  • Instruct  your child to push palms together and stretch arms prior to writing tasks .
  • Let your student work in a quiet room or a cubby in back of class.
  • Play classical music, white noise, or music that has a strong and consistent rhythm while your child is doing homework.

See other BrainSTARS articles.

Posted on BrainLine November 9, 2011.

From BrainSTARS, Brain Injury: Strategies for Teams And Re-education for Students, © 2002 Jeanne Dise-Lewis, PhD. Used with permission. The manual is available in English and Spanish. For more information or to order copies, call 720.777.5470 or A short video on how to use the BrainSTARS manual is available at