Timmy (pseudonym) arrived at Phillips as a young student with Autism who had engaged in many maladaptive behaviors at school including aggression and elopement.  Following multiple aggressive incidents towards his teachers, peers, and administrative staff, and having exhausted all options within his public school continuum of services, he arrived at Phillips as an 8-year-old boy with a long list of negative school experiences.  According to test scores, Timmy was a very bright and capable student, scoring well above average on standardized cognitive assessments. The problem was Timmy struggled in a large, busy, noisy classroom.  Following his arrival at Phillips, his team quickly began working to help manage these interfering behaviors. As a part of this work, Timmy was referred for an occupational therapy evaluation which revealed significant sensory processing deficits. These sensory processing deficits impacted the way Timmy interpreted, registered, filtered, and responded to environmental stimuli such that he was not able to cope and produce expected reactions or responses for any given situation.  When he was playing basketball on the playground, he was not able to grade how hard he returned a pass, or just how much physicality was acceptable between friends during a game.  His peers and teachers often saw these occasions as acts of aggression or as an invasion of personal space or boundaries. When he returned to his classroom, he struggled to adjust his level of activation after playing outside so that he was calm, focused, and ready to learn. Instead it would appear as if he had far too much energy and was acting out to be silly or gain negative attention. In his classroom, Timmy struggled to filter out the background noises and sights when trying so hard to focus on his teacher’s instruction. He was overwhelmed, over-loaded, and not available to sit, listen, and learn.  His Phillips team collaborated to create an individualized behavior, communication, and sensory program to best serve Timmy’s unique educational needs.

To address his sensory processing deficits, Timmy’s sensory programming involved creating a “sensory diet” to provide him with frequent, consistent, “snacks” to help him better modulate and regulate his attention and arousal so he was more available for learning.  The sensory activities involved activities both in and out of his classroom to provide him with the optimal dose of stimulation to help his neuro-motor system better register, interpret, filter, and respond to environmental stimuli at school. Timmy used swings, weighted blankets, weighted balls, pressure vests, calisthenics, mini trampolines, and specialized headphones with music to name a few.  As Timmy matured and his ability to manage his sensory needs improved, his team continuously adjusted his individualized program so that he was able to manage these needs more independently.  Within his classroom, Timmy had access to a standing desk, foot fidget, hand fidgets, move-n-sit seating cushion, and a stationary bike.  This equipment was especially beneficial as it allowed for Timmy to manage his sensory needs while remaining in the classroom and engaged in learning. His team also created a physical learning space that kept extraneous stimuli at a minimum so he could better attend to the important things. This included using fluorescent light covers, covering shelving with fabric, using music, and providing visual boundaries for peers, staff, and furniture. Eventually, Timmy was demonstrating the skills and behaviors to begin transitioning back to his public school part-time.  During this transition phase, Timmy continued to work with his Phillips team increasing his “tool bag” of sensory activities he could use independently but conspicuously at his new school.  Timmy was able to use these tools successfully so that he could remain available for learning and be able to recognize his need for sensory-supports to best manage his needs among his public school peers. He was determined to succeed and within a couple months, was able to transition back to his public school full-time successfully completing several honors classes.