Managing ADHD and Sensory Processing Behaviors in the Classroom

By Shannon Samulski

More and more children, in every grade level, are coming to school with behavior problems. Two of the most common problems are related to ADHD and sensory processing disorder.

Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and are disorganized, easily distracted, and forgetful. Children with sensory processing disorder move around a lot, fidget, impulsively blurt out in the classroom, and are unable to be quiet. In both cases, the behavior can seriously disrupt the classroom and leave teachers feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and hopeless.

These children need additional help and support on a daily basis. In fact, teachers who do intervene and provide the right learning environment can make a world of difference for these learners. In this article, we’ll look at ADHD and sensory processing disorder, the effect in the classroom, and practical interventions.

The plugged-in 21st Century learner

Researchers continue to explore a myriad of reasons why 21st Century learners are increasingly exhibiting behavior problems in the classroom. One connection being considered is overexposure to technology. In theory, the constant stimulation of TV and video games may make it more difficult for children to pay attention in the classroom. But that alone as a cause of behavior problems hasn’t been proven. The link between sugar, parenting, genes, and other factors are also being investigated. Whatever the reason, if it is truly an ADHD or sensory student, the behavior is likely something they cannot control.

Intervention: The golden rule

ADHD and sensory interventions can significantly improve problem behavior in the classroom by helping children get their energy out, focus, and direct their attention. However, the interventions must be strategic, systematic, and—most important—match the area of concern. In planning interventions, teachers must ask themselves: What is the problem? Impulsiveness? Disorganization? Not paying attention? Once the area of need is identified, a trial-and-error approach is key to making sure the correct intervention is applied to the problem.

Teachers are encouraged to explore a variety of proprioceptive and vestibular activities and determine how effective they are with students with ADHD or sensory needs. The goal: Movement in the classroom and throughout the school.

For example, proprioceptive input is received through the joints and muscles with movement such as a bear walk or crab walk. Vestibular receptors are stimulated by any type of movement, but spinning, swinging, and hanging upside will produce the most intense and longest lasting input.

Ideally, movement is built into the culture of the school. Many schools, in fact, are promoting movement throughout the building by setting up motor courses, agility ladders, and other opportunities for students to “wiggle.” Other schools are still uncertain of the positive outcome of motor programs. As a result, teachers do more testing in their individual classrooms and share successes with colleagues.

Parents and teachers working together

Usually, parents are also struggling with the behavior and need suggestions for changing it. Teachers need to partner with parents, keep communication lines open, and share successes and activities that are working. If parents are on board with what the teacher is doing, they can use these same activities to keep expectations consistent at home and school.


Discover interventions that proactively meet the needs of students with ADHD or sensory disorder. SDE offers a webinar that will help you set your children up for success. Check out ADHD & Sensory Interventions: Let’s Get a Wiggle On! by author and intervention expert Shannon Samulski.

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