As a Special Education Parent Consultant and Advocate, one of the services I am able to provide my clients is a trauma sensitive classroom evaluation. I recently observed a classroom and made several recommendations to address the sensory needs of a client’s son. I had gone expressly to evaluate the environment and teaching styles used through a trauma sensitive lens and found myself making copious notes despite the teacher’s obvious experience and comfort in her kindergarten classroom. Her students were also comfortable, active and engaged. It was a noisy and productive space. Too noisy. I observed this particular young student displaying signs of frustration, anxiety and confusion. What his teachers had described as “impulsivity” and “inattention” appeared to me to be sensory overload and a lack of critical supports often needed to fully engage children with a history of trauma. In part, I recommended the following:
- Look directly at the student and gain eye contact before speaking to him.
- Look at student and listen to him when he is talking or answering questions.
- Avoid side conversations with the student and others during whole group activities.
- Seat child close to teacher and front of room class activities.
- Seat child farther away from and facing away from distractions such as classroom door, pencil sharpener and coat rack.
- Use visual aids to clarify classroom expectations.
- Use paraprofessional support to foster his engagement with class during whole class activities and to reinforce visual cues.
Since my observation, my clients have discovered that their son has substantially impaired hearing. The recommendations made by his audiologist, other than including the use of hearing aids and an amplification system, are remarkably similar to my own and include preferential seating, establishing eye contact and using visual aids.
I was responding to the sensory issues as much as to trauma concerns when I wrote my report. The two often go together. Still, it makes me wonder if these “accommodations” might not be key to successfully teaching many struggling children. While it is well documented that bright and motivated kids will learn no matter what the teaching style, those who struggle need something more. In a perfect world, every classroom would provide a multi-modal, child-centric approach. One where class size permits every child to have preferential seating, where teachers always take time to make eye contact and every student knows they are being listened to.