Back To School.. 6 Tips For Your Sensory Child

I know I’m not alone. I get smiles in solidarity, hear the groans at the local Starbucks, and share the frazzled Mom look of yoga pants, messy hair and tired eyes.  It’s called back to school shock. While some Moms are dancing in their driveways, Mom’s like me are charting lists, emailing teachers, staying up late to prep and rising early, just to guzzle down some coffee before the stressful start of the school morning begins.

 Our kids struggle with back to school-from getting out the door in the morning to falling asleep at night - and often every school oriented transition that falls in between. 

“ Sensory” kids see the world through a different lens, and even small things can be stress points. Sensory kids are sometimes rigid, anxious or distracted kids, characteristics that are not exclusive to the diagnoses of Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Austism Spectrum, Anxiety Disorder or a host of other diagnoses that often have  a sensory component. 

When my daughter Zoe was in Kindergarten, I could see the physical exhaustion in her face as I helped her in the house each day after school. Guiding her to the cool, quiet and calming environment of her bedroom, straight from the car, instinctively seemed the best thing to do. First thing after school Zoe lays down to watch a quiet dvd. Only in the last year, when she started fifth grade, was Zoe able to describe the rush and noisy end to her school day that contributes to her fatigue and after school headaches.

The commonly chaotic, family school morning rush can cause my middle school age daughter Olivia, problematic increased anxiety.  Through trial and error I have found that the more quiet and less rushed school mornings are, the less anxiety she experiences, and the more confident she feels.  

Before mothering a special needs child, I gave little thought to sensory input and how it affects each of us. We all have sensory triggers-  factors that influence our mood, ability to be productive, even our ability to relax. One example , is the mood lifting transformation that comes over me when I enter a Starbucks. It’s the colors on the wall, the piped in music, the smell of coffee, the stacks of newspapers .. it’s oddly soothing and invigorating at the same time. When Zoe was little , her pediatrician came in to greet us by explaining he had a headache from the newly painted walls in the exam room. It was the bright colors, he explained. There were 4 different primary colors competing for and stimulating his vision simultaneously. He was miserable, and a week later, the offices were repainted in a bright, cheerful toned down color scheme. 

When our kids are older, it may be easier to put the pieces of this puzzle together. We have time spent in trial and error, verbal cues, the help of professionals, but what happens if it’s all new to you? What happens if the back to school transitions just aren’t working? If you are desperate to find new solutions and systems that work? 

As Mom’s we understand the concept that different children thrive in different school environments-but what about at home? Have you considered how your child will succeed best in the home environment? Carolyn Dalgliesh has written an extensive how-to guide tackling this tough subject; “ The Sensory Child Gets Organized” Proven Systems for Rigid, Anxious, or Distracted Kids “ is a top-to- bottom, complete life guide on living successfully with your sensory child that features these 6 tips you can use to start your school year off right: 

  6 Back To School Tips For A Smooth Start 

  1. Learn to Speak Your Children’s Language. Consider your child’s strengths, social and emotional development and triggers. Create a sensory profile determining how your child learns best so you can create an approach for an organized environment that will be unique and successful for your child. 
  2. Make Troubled Times Easy: A school schedule gives us less flexibility for some of the basics moms manage in every day life. Try using the support strategy of  power of choice, letting your child choose-shower or bath. Another support strategy would be using letting your child engage in their “fascination” to help them accomplish a task. In our house, Zoe often brings a small toy to the dinner table. It doesn’t prevent her from eating her meal, just allows her to engage in a different way-sharing it with us, or even talking about it during the dinner conversation. 
  3. Manage The Morning Rush a) Break Down Tasks - by sequence and time  b) Eliminate External and Internal Stimuli and c) Create A Visual Aid For Support- ie, list
  4. Keep It Together And Make It Portable: Create a homework bin for kids, holding all their homework stuff for a portable station. 
  5. Create A Place For After-School Activity Schedules. Have your kids highlight their own activities to make a visual pattern that makes sense to them. 
  6. Savor The Sweetness of Bedtime: OK, this is my Mom tip, not one from Carolyn’s awesome, empowering how-to rock at mothering sensory style book. My tip is to take the time at bedtime to compliment your kids ( and yourself) on what went right that day, reinforcing that tomorrow is a new day. Hug your kids, love your kids and then ready what you can the night before the morning madness comes again! 


  1. Book

Vist Carolyn's website to learn more about purchasing this book. It is a must read to add to your library. I have a couple of extra copies, thanks to the author- so if you work with special needs families and think this would be an asset to your library and make a difference please email me.