Sensory Issues and the IEP

By Lindsey Biel, OTR/L

Sensory problems — such as issues with touch, sound, movement, vision, and body awareness — frequently interfere with students’ abilities to take advantage of their educational programs. If parents or teachers suspect that sensory issues are interfering with a child’s function at school, they should request an occupational therapy evaluation.

While some strategies and accommodations can be worked out informally with cooperative teachers, others need to be negotiated with the school and added to the IEP to ensure compliance. An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a legal document that spells out a child’s levels of function and unique needs, and the school’s obligation and plan to meet them. IEPs include long-term goals and short- term objectives, and are generally written annually with periodic reviews and modifications.

The law mandates only those related services such as occupational therapy, strategies, and accommodations that are written into the IEP for an individual student. While it may be quick and cost- effective for a parent to supply inexpensive items like a pencil grip or "chewy," the school must allow the child to use such devices — or a costly piece of assistive technology, behavioral strategy, or intervention — only if it is on the IEP.

Sensory Diet Activities to Implement During the School Day

Sensory diet activities give a child’s body the input needed to reach and maintain a calm, alert state, and may be added to the IEP. "Ingredients" should be individualized for each child and collaboratively developed with the school, parents, child, and therapists. The school OT may work directly with students in individual or group sessions, or join the classroom and work with the teacher to incorporate:

"Sensory Smart" IEP Strategies and Accommodations

Here are some strategies and accommodations that may help.

An Example of a "Sensory Smart" IEP Goal with Objectives

Be "sensory smart" when writing IEP goals and objectives.

Resources For more on sensory diet activities, sensory strategies and accommodations, and practical solutions for home and school, read Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration IssuesRaising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child With Sensory Integration Issues, by Lindsey Biel, OTR/L and Nancy Peske.

Lindsey Biel is a pediatric occupational therapist in New York City, and the co- author of Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration IssuesRaising A Sensory Smart Child. Visit her website at This article is adapted from an article in the September-October, 2005 issue of Autism Asperger Digest, a bimonthly magazine on autism spectrum disorders. Adaptation with permission of the publisher.]

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 11, Number 4 - Summer, 2006]

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