Many children have trouble learning because of sensory overload – Midland Reporter

Wende Parsley

Wende Parsley

Wende Parsley

School/position: Jeremiah School education director/teacher

College attended/degree: Bachelor of Science from Angelo State University and Master of Education from Grand Canyon University

Years in Education: 27

Family: husband, Chris

Sons: Ethan, Jackson, Anthony, Christopher, Ryan

Favorite book: “Yertle the Turtle” by Dr. Seuss

Favorite movie: “Out of Africa”

Favorite food: Guacamole

Favorite sports team: MCA Knights

Favorite leisure activity: Camping

Posted: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 7:52 pm

Updated: 8:11 pm, Tue Sep 30, 2014.

Many children have trouble learning because of sensory overload

By Wende Parsley | Jeremiah School

Midland Reporter-Telegram


Information about sensory integration disorder, or sensory processing disorder, has been known for around 30 years when Dr. Jean Ayres began to notice that behavioral problems were showing up in our children nationwide.

Since that time, there have been increased diagnoses of ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Studies show that 1 in 5 American children are diagnosed with one or more of these conditions, which have sensory problems as a symptom.

Almost all babies and toddlers have defenses against certain textures, sounds, smells or visual stimuli. We then protect them from these things: “He doesn’t like mashed potatoes.” “She hates walking on sand or grass.” “My kid can’t stand ringing noises.” When we keep children from experiencing these things, their brains never make complete sense of their world. We must reintroduce these sights, sounds, smells and textures to help our kids’ brains wire correctly.

Technology has brought a whole new dimension to children’s lack of sensory stimuli. We are worried about strangers, so children don’t ride bikes around the neighborhood. We fear skin cancer and slather them in UV-protecting, vitamin D-blocking and chemical-laden products, or are happy for them to remain indoors. They gladly oblige, playing video games, texting, or surfing the web for hours at a time. Gone are the glorious days of going barefoot, making mud pies, rolling in the grass and collecting bugs. Playdough and paint and glitter are messy, so they are absent as well.

To truly understand what our children are lacking and what this means for them academically, we need to put ourselves in their shoes. Imagine yourself at a dinner party. You were uncomfortable with the thought of even attending, but had already promised. You are tired after a long day at work. More than 100 people are all talking among themselves. More guests than expected show up, creating tight, overly warm quarters. One man is particularly loud and seems upset. Music is playing. People are dancing. Intermittently, someone calls out information about the ongoing silent auction. You smell the dinner about to be served and hear the dishes clanging. A plate drops to the floor. Without warning, your date tells you there is a small problem at work and leaves, vowing to return shortly. Time passes. You hear an ambulance in the background and realize that your partner has been gone too long. As you exit, an acquaintance stops you to tell you about this great book that he’s just read, but you don’t remember much of what he said. This is what many of our kids experience daily. They are overwhelmed, frustrated, acting out and are not learning.

But what if your literary friend noticed that you were tense and distracted? What if he offered to help, walked outside with you and stood with you while you called to check on your date, gave you a minute to calm your nerves and allowed you to be present for the book synopsis? Now, how much would you remember?

What if we gave our children this same kind of time and consideration?

We ignore that our kids are overwhelmed with sensory input for at least eight hours a day. They can only appropriately tend to learning tasks when they are emotionally, physically and mentally in a good place. Expecting them to do otherwise is, at best, a waste of time. At worst, it is the beginning of a chain reaction that will perpetuate sensory overload for the entire class. You think you can’t afford to spend time on this? You can’t afford not to. The way our children are treated is clearly not working, yet we are directly opposed to trying anything new. If we do nothing and continue down this broken road, we will have no one to blame for our children’s problems but ourselves.

For information about sensory processing disorder and how you can help a child, read: “The Out-of-Sync Child” by Carol Kranowitz, “The Explosive Child” or “Lost at School” by Ross Greene or find resources online at

Wende Parsley is education director and teacher at Jeremiah School.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 7:52 pm.

Updated: 8:11 pm.