The transition from primary (elementary) school to secondary school can be a daunting one for any child and even more so for children with sensory integration (sensory processing) challenges. Here, one parent sets out for us her recollection of her son’s struggle with this transition and explains how working closely with their occupational therapist (OT) and the school was the key to a better school experience for her son.
Judith’s son, now aged 29, was diagnosed with sensory integration difficulties at the age of 12 years old:
“Seventeen years ago, sensory integration was an unknown problem to most parents; even as a paediatric nurse I knew very little about the condition until my son’s OT assessment, plus my son’s condition at the ‘hypo’ end was rarely diagnosed. I have many memories of the problems he had as a young child but we always felt that everything was manageable until he went to secondary school and it was then, when everything came to a head, that we had him assessed.
“If I had my time again, I would have sought help for him before he started secondary school. His poor memory and organisational skills meant that moving from a small primary school to a large secondary school was extremely stressful. Every day he would return home very upset; he regularly lost his way to the next class which meant he was often late for lessons. The anxiety this caused meant that he frequently lost his belongings and didn’t know how to find them. Added to that were his poor fine motor skills, which meant his work on paper didn’t match his bright, intelligent mind.
“I still have his original OT assessment report and remember he received a block of sensory integration treatment to work on his proprioceptive/tactile senses. He was also given a writing slope which improved his handwriting. He found having some squashy balls in his pockets helped to give him more feeling in his fingers.
“The challenges he faced weren’t obvious to the untrained eye, so we knew we needed to establish a close partnership between us and the school. Fortunately, our school was very receptive and keen to help. We shared the OT assessment with the school and this was the turning point. I believe that the single most helpful thing was that the school could now understand that he needed help in a more unusual way than most other children with specific needs.
“The OT who assessed our son said that we should always remember that everything he did (being at the hypo end) required twice as much effort as anyone else would need. This made sense and I recalled that, when my son started primary school on only half-days for the first term, he would sleep for 14 hours every night!
“He became very frustrated in his GCSE years but the school helped to remove or find a way round his problems. For example, they allowed me to help with posters, cutting, sticking, drawing, etc in some subjects because they realised his struggle with fine motor skills was causing him to become very anxious although his academic ability was never in doubt. He was also given an hour a week alone with a teacher to vent his frustrations.
“So, if I could give one piece of advice to other parents of children with sensory integration difficulties, it would be to prepare your child for the transition from primary to secondary school and to work closely with the new school.
“My son manages his life very well now, although he still struggles with organisational skills and has a poor memory. To cope with this, I have always felt, that he works very hard to achieve a level that most people take for granted and I couldn’t be more proud of him for that.”
Sensory Integration Education would like to thank Judith for sharing her and her son’s story with us.