3 Ways to Determine the Effectiveness of Sensory Strategies

Categories: OT Perspective | Sensory
As an OT, I am frequently recommending sensory strategies that students and teams can use throughout the school day to promote regulation and engagement.  There are many options available, and it is important to consistently evaluate the effectiveness of sensory strategies to ensure student success.  Every student is unique, therefore it is hard to pinpoint a specific protocol to evaluating the effectiveness of sensory strategies.  However, I do utilize a few guiding principles in my conversations and observations which can help with decision-making.  Here are my top 3 tips to help you evaluate the effectiveness of your sensory strategies!

Consider the Student Perspective

The best strategies are those that the student chooses and prefers.  As teachers and therapists, we can certainly make our own observations about different sensory tools – but the most important perspective is that of the student.  Pay attention to what students naturally gravitate to or shy away from throughout the day.  This will give you some good insight to start.  Follow up by asking questions and getting curious about why a student likes or doesn’t like a certain sensory input or tool.  Remember – our goal is not to change a child’s nervous system.  We aren’t looking to force them to tolerate sensations that may be uncomfortable for them.  What we want to do is help them understand how their sensory system works and what tools help them feel comfortable and regulated throughout the day. We want to empower students to advocate for what they need!

Evaluate Consistency of Use

I have found that the most effective sensory strategies are those that are easy to embed throughout natural daily routines.  As you talk with your team and observe the student, pay attention to what strategies are utilized most frequently.  You may notice that the strategies which require a lot of adult support, a separate space or piece of equipment, or that take a lot of time, are utilized less consistently.  These strategies certainly have their place, but you may need to think of alternative options.  For example, let’s say a student really benefits from linear vestibular input and enjoys using the swing in the sensory room.  This is a wonderful option, but it may not always be feasible to visit the swing multiple times a day if it is located in a sensory room on the opposite end of the school.  If you notice this type of input works for the student, I encourage you to think of alternative ways a student can get that input during the day to give options to the team and student.  While nothing can truly replace swinging, activities like using a rocking chair or using a scooter board can activate the vestibular system in a similar way.

Observe Student Engagement

As I’ve mentioned a few times in this article, observation of the student is going to be your biggest tool when it comes to evaluating how successful a strategy is.  Here is one important question you can ask yourself in this process – is the student able to engage in meaningful occupations after using this sensory strategy or while using this sensory tool?  If the answer is ‘yes’, that tool or strategy may stay in this student’s toolbox.  If the answer is no, you can bring that information back to your occupational therapist and team for further discussion. 

With some good observation skills and team/student feedback, you can ensure that sensory strategies are helpful for your students.  What are some of the ways you evaluate the effectiveness of your sensory strategies?


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