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It feels like very cold ice-cream on your teeth!

A colleague posed a question on a social media forum that I belong to as to whether other colleagues had heard of using sensory immersive approach within a coaching session. A number of colleagues asked him to clarify, he then showed a picture of a school’s ‘sensory room’.

My reply was to be cautious when using this approach, as some individuals may have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  As many of you know, my son is on the autistic spectrum and one of his conditions is SPD.

It made me think about children who are on the spectrum within Early Years settings who are displaying SPD, as educators may think it is due to something else.

In his own early years, my son would not step on leaves – a real challenge in autumn!

I recently spoke to a specialist in autism-related behaviour and explained how my son displayed hyperactive behaviour within his early and primary years. She said that more than likely he was reacting to the environment, due to SPD.

My son doesn’t like to be touched either, I recently asked him how it feels when someone touches him, his response: “It feels like very cold ice-cream on your teeth!”

Likewise, I was fortunate to hear Professor Stuart Shankar recall a situation with a child who cried non-stop whilst within an Early Years setting. Eventually, the educators noticed it was the strip lights in the room that were the issue.

Once, when I was carrying out a consultancy visit, a child didn’t want to go into the hall for a music and movement session. The educator asked me if that was ok. I said, of course! Maybe there was an issue of SPD for this child.

Think about children who chew things, which can be another sign of SPD, or those who have a transitional object (also other objects that they come across within a setting) that is placed in their mouth. Transitional objects are extremely important for some children.

Or when we see a child who doesn’t like to touch sand or cornflour. How many times have I heard educators say this is because the parents want them to be clean all the time! Could this be SPD?


I am a lover of all things sensory within an Early Years setting. I have written on numerous occasions that settings need to be as natural as possible as there are more learning opportunities. Equally, I am passionate that children should receive appropriate quality interactions from educators that involve, cuddles, touching and stroking.

However, we need to be mindful that there are some children who may have SPD and how this has an impact on their behaviour.

The key person’s role is equally important in observing and connecting with the child, seeing what the child’s behaviour is like within a variety of situations and not just observing as a checklist against the Early Learning Goals.

Children are only with us for a short period of time during their formative years within our settings and finding out about their behaviour characteristics is vital in supporting them with their learning and development. What a privileged position to be in as an educator, that a child allows us into their world.

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  • Penny Webb

    Excellent Laura

    As you know I have a grandchild with Aspergers, when he was very young he did not like the feel of clothes on him, and spent a lot of his very early years naked when at home. As he grew he became more sensitive – water, paper and others. When he started school this of course caused difficulties, which along with his very black / white view of the world meant he was often excluded from activities or from school

    I could write a lot more, and maybe will do so in the future, but for now I would just like to say it is not rocket science – start with the child, plan with the child’s needs and interests in mind – and stop trying to fit them into one sized boxes so can tick those assessment boxes.

    Oh and by the way my grandchild did not learn to write at 4, or 5 or but started at 7; he did not learn to read at 4, or 5 or 6 or 7 and did not start to make progress until nearly 8. However he is an extremely able child, when doing the things he enjoys and copes with socially and within his sensory boundaries.

    • Laura Henry

      Thanks Penny, for sharing. 🙂

      • Dawn

        Hi Penny. I am glad to hear your grandchild is doing well. My child also did not learn to read until aged seven. Now, as a qualified early years professional, I understand that this is the age at which most children are ready to learn to read and write, unfortunately, our educational system forces learning these skills earlier, before many children are actually developmentally ready. My daughter began to read at aged seven, however, since then she has always been assessed as being at least three years above her reading age, and has a very high I.Q.

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  • Julie Lechley

    My son has a speech problem (phonological disorder) due to past hearing problems. However he always has trouble in certain environments , either too enclosed too loud or as my son suggests doesn’t feel right. It causes him to become upset and stressed. I was always informed it was due to his hearing.

  • Jane Evans

    Fantastic piece Laura! It’s so important to know there are a range of reasons children experience ‘sensory overload’. High anxiety & exposure to childhood trauma can see children predominantly in ‘survival’ mode with heightened senses. If we respect children’s responses & communications then we work at & with their levels of tolerance so they can access enjoyment & curiosity.

  • Catherine Lyon

    Fab! Taking your article to Senior Management meeting in the nurseries! Thank you! x

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