The following section deals with high sensitivity in children, with a focal point on school and classroom environment. Featuring a range of different intervention strategies, activities, and accommodations, this section aims to guide teachers in facilitating learning for students with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). Hereby, the emphasis is placed on supporting highly sensitive students in the classroom on an emotional level by taking into consideration how they learn best.

As introduced in the first section of this chapter, the term ‘Highly Sensitive Child’ (HSC), refers to children with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) and is often used in context with psychological practices (Boterberg and Warreyn, 2016). The nervous system of HSCs leads to them often choosing to observe the subtleties in a specific situation as well as processing the information intensely before showing a reaction (Aron, 2002). In case of extreme stimulation, their level of arousal (Aron, 2013) can rise rapidly, which can lead to overarousal. What educators can do to handle situations in which a student is overaroused will be elaborated on in the following.

The Highly Sensitive Child in the Classroom

Due to the high percentage of children who are highly sensitive (15 to 20 percent; Aron, 2002), chances are high for HSCs to be found in every classroom. Therefore, it is crucial to create an inclusive classroom environment which is catering to the needs of students with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS).

As stated by Baryła-Matejczuk, Artymiak, Ferrer-Cascales and Betancort (2020), targeted in-school support is highly beneficial for HSCs and leads to an increase in their creativity, intuitional skills, and unique thinking. However, under destructive conditions, HSCs can be influenced negatively, which can result in them feeling overwhelmed, less self-confident, and unorganized as well as in an overall decrease in productivity.

For this reason, it is crucial for educators to be knowledgeable of suitable intervention strategies, and activities to make use of in situations where a student is overaroused and exhausted. In that way, the trait of being highly sensitive can simultaneously be accommodated as well as nurtured in the best way possible.


High sensitivity is often stigmatised as students being shy or too emotional (Aron, 2013). A teacher must never assume a student is just shy or scared if, for example, the student is only watching during happenings. This in particular might lead to labelling students and making assumptions, which is why it is very important for teachers not to fall back on these stereotypes, acquire knowledge on high sensitivity and its diverse facets and, eventually support the students in question according to their needs.

Following, Aron (2013) calls on educators to take cultural biases against shyness, quietness, and introversion into consideration and, hence, reflect on and watch out for these biases in oneself and other students.

The Four Aspects of High Sensitivity

Aron (2013) categorizes four aspects of high sensitivity, which can be represented by the acronym DOES:

  • D – Depth of Processing
  • O – Overstimulation
  • E – Emotional Reactivity (connected with Empathy)
  • S – Sensing the Subtle

Each one of these four aspects of being highly sensitive comprises a variety of potential effects on the individual child. Impacts that could possibly be observed in HSCs in the classroom are pointed out in the following paragraphs.

Since HSCs process everything that is happening around them deeply, they often find it difficult to make decisions as well as need more time to adapt to new situations and people. However, this character trait also allows for a vivid imagination as well as the inquiry of thought-provoking questions, which, if the potential is recognized by a teacher, can be a great opportunity to nurture creative and innovative minds (Baryła-Matejczuk et al., 2020).

As a result of being easily overstimulated, HSCs often react intensely to environmental influences, like, for example, noise, temperature, or light, as well as tend to mental and physical fatigue. This can lead to general exhaustion and overarousal and, thus, it is not uncommon for HSCs to be found playing alone rather than involving with their peers (Baryła-Matejczuk et al., 2020).

The distinctive emotional reactivity of HSCs is interconnected with a very high level of empathy, which mostly results in a great awareness of the emotions of others. This aspect can be linked to many HSCs showing characteristics of being a perfectionist, which might become evident when a student is always striving for the best outcome possible, often not being satisfied with the result or even acting out when making just the smallest mistake.

Finally, HSCs are highly sensitive to subtle stimuli in their physical environments, which can cause for them to favour very structured lessons, based on rules and repetitive elements. On top of that, they tend to be impacted by conflicts in a negative way, frequently resulting in spiralling thoughts. Here, it is especially crucial for a teacher to look out for signs of a student being overaroused or caught up in their head; easy and doable intervention strategies will be presented in the following passage.

From Theory to Practice – Activities and Intervention Strategies

The following passage aims to equip educators with a toolkit that can be implemented in their teaching right away and provides them with ideas for first steps towards the inclusion of HSCs in the classroom.

Aligned with the four categories of high sensitivity (DOES; Aron, 2013), these four easily applicable and practical activities aim to encourage HSCs in the classroom, enabling them to benefit from their high sensitivity. Furthermore, a list with intervention strategies supplies teachers with ways to facilitate learning for students with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS).

Activity 1: Nurturing the Creativity of HSCs – Teaching Through Arts

For students with special needs, art can be a refuge (Loesl, 2012), which is why it is of great importance for educators to implement art making and creative tasks in their lessons. According to Loesl (2012), teaching art can help students to process their personal issues. Thus, for students with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS), art tasks provide room for them to work through their own thoughts, emotions and general oversarousal in an artistic and imaginative way. When referring to art, this does not only include visual arts, but also dancing, drama, and music.

In the following, various ideas are listed in which teachers can implement the arts in their lessons:

  • Role-play and drama activities – boosting the self-confidence and articulation of all students
  • Craft your own musical instrument – involving the students in a project combining music and visual arts
  • Painting to music – investigating in the interconnections between visual arts and music
  • Colours and emotions – exploring emotions through different colours and materials
  • Classical music – learning about classical music and its calming effects
  • Dance and rhythm – experiencing music and expressing feelings through body movements

These websites provide teachers with a variety of inclusive and easily accessible art tasks to use in the classroom:

Activity 2: A Guided Meditation

As students with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) are easily being overstimulated (Aron, 2002), they are often prone to mental and physical fatigue. This might show in students falling asleep during a lesson, extreme exhaustion by the end of the school day and concentration issues. Implementing meditation, and mindfulness in the school day can be beneficial for HSCs because it helps individuals to stay in the present moment as well as boosts the development of their socio-emotional skills (Crescentini, Capurso, Furlan & Fabbro, 2016).

There are many ways in which teachers can include valuable moments throughout the day for students to calm down, connect with themselves, release their stress, and monitor their breathing. One way of implementation is in form of a guided meditation (Van Mulligen, 2017). Here, HSCs are being offered an opportunity to purposefully reflect on their thoughts and emotions as well as practice their skills to be more self-aware and objective in critical situations.

Based on the meditative technique ‘Put Your Worries on a Cloud’ (Van Mulligen, 2016), this 5-minute guided meditative practice is not only helpful for highly sensitive students but for all students in a classroom environment. It can be implemented at any time throughout the school day, for example between lessons or activities as well as after recess. Teachers can use the guided meditation as a whole class activity or with individual students and its goal is to allow students to release their negative thoughts and feelings as well as to re-connect to their own body and mind.

BLOW AWAY WHAT MAKES YOU WORRY: A guided meditation: Personalizing the Meditative Experience!

Educators can write their own guided meditation, adjusted to the individual needs, interests, and personalities of their students. This can be read to the class or, if desired, recorded for the use at any time throughout the day, may it be with another teacher, the homework supervisor or even at the students’ home.

Extra Tips!

Activity 3: Thought Breaks

Many highly sensitive students have a high level of empathy, which allows them to be sensitive towards others but can also lead to them noticing when others are suffering, and thus, having a hard time processing both their own feelings as well as the feelings of others (Baryła-Matejczuk et al., 2020). This is interconnected to deeply processing events and reflecting upon them, no matter how small the happening might look like from the outside. For example, a student could have a hard time processing a conflict with a peer that has happened during recess, the student could worry about something the teacher has said or interpret the fact that a peer did not want to play with them as being disliked or not good enough.

As it becomes evident, HSCs are easily being caught up in their spiralling thoughts and feelings or being impacted by strong emotions of others or one’s own, especially when it comes to conflicts. In such situations, it is important for teachers to know strategies which can help the students to find their way out of their thoughts and to allow them a break.

As mentioned by Minahan (2020), a guest speaker in the Senia Happy Hour Podcast, a doable and quick strategy for teachers to offer their students are cognitive distractions or thought breaks. Hereby, it is important to consider that movement breaks or allowing the student to draw may result in leaving the student alone in their thoughts and worries. Therefore, Minahan (2020) proposes breaks that actively help the students switch their channel of thoughts and give them something to think about. This could for example be short activities like solving a sudoku or crossword puzzle, engaging in a ‘Where is Waldo’ book or a trivia game – adjusted to the age of the student. As simple as it seems, this is a very powerful and valuable strategy to aid HSCs in a classroom to master their school days, providing them with opportunities to release their stress, anxiety and overarousal throughout the day.

Activity 4: Positive Affirmations

Since students with sensory processing sensitivity (SPS) are sensitive to subtle stimuli as well as process everything that is happening around them deeply (Aron, 2013), this often results in negative spirals of thoughts. Thus, affirmations can be a great and simple way for teachers to support HSCs in their classroom, helping them to turn their negative thoughts into positive thoughts (Van Mulligen, 2020).

Reading positive affirmations out loud on a daily basis can help HSCs to overcome their fear of failure and, over time, turn their fix mindset into a growth mindset. (Van Mulligen, 2020).

Here are four exemplary ‘positive affirmations’ templates for the inclusive primary classroom:

Making it personal!

Students can come up with their own positive affirmations, according to their individual needs and insecurities. In class, this can be combined with an art task, for example in form of designing posters for the classroom or creating small cards the students can keep on their desk to boost their self-confidence and motivation.

Ideas for Intervention Strategies:

  • Create a calm corner in the classroom [To learn more about inclusive classroom design for HSCs, read further in the next section of this chapter.]
  • Install a sensory center area in the classroom (Deep Space Sparkle, 2020) Find out more about this on the following website: https://www.deepspacesparkle.com/teaching-art-children-special-needs-ame-056/
  • Provide a high level of teacher guidance to supply HSCs with structured lessons (Baryła-Matejczuk et al., 2020)
  • Break down activities into small steps so that the lessons are easier to follow for HSCs


A Year 4 class is going on a trip to the zoo. One of the students in the class is highly sensitive, which is predominantly evident through the following signs: easily being overstimulated, prone to meltdowns, quickly exhausted and strongly affected by conflicts within the class. What could the teacher of this class do to make sure the student in question has an enjoyable experience?


A Year 2 class is planning their show for the spring fair, which involves singing, dancing, and a little bit of acting. One of the students in the class is highly sensitive, being easily overaroused and showing intense reactions to loud noises and quick movements, which always leads to exhaustion and the need to play alone from time to time. How could the teacher of this class include the student in the show with neither making them feel overstimulated nor left out?

Knowledge Application – A Case Study

Time to revise this section and practically apply the newly acquired knowledge. Read the following case study and reflect on how to facilitate learning for the described student by using the guiding questions.

Sam, a 7-year-old student in a Year 3 classroom, is attending an international primary school in Amsterdam. He has been at this school from reception on and has recently started the school year with his new homeroom teacher, Mrs. Katie.  Right from the start of the academic year, Sam’s teacher observes that he seems to be extremely unsettled and upset the moment the noise level in the classroom is rising even the slightest bit. During lessons, Sam is often doodling, and Mrs. Katie is never quite sure whether Sam is following the lesson or whether he is distracted. In learning situations where the students are being offered various different tasks or are working on learning stations, Sam seems to have a hard time deciding what he would like to work on, which sometimes even leads to complete withdrawal and his refusal to participate in the lesson at all.

Mrs. Katie was told by the playground supervisor that Sam is playing alone almost every day during recess and in the last period of every school day, Sam barely gets any work done as well as visibly looks tired and exhausted. This sometimes even results in Sam falling asleep with his head on his desk during class.

Something else that Mrs. Katie has noticed is that Sam performs very well on creative tasks; he is very talented in making realistic drawings and he does well on creative writing tasks, using complicated words. Also, Sam is extremely empathetic and caring and Mrs. Katie has noticed him being especially kind and helpful towards Lisa, an ELL student who has recently moved to this school.

After talking to Sam’s parents, Mrs. Katie has learned that at his home, Sam is also very sensitive to loud noises, which is why he often spends time in his own room, where his quiet space is secured. At his house, Sam likes to listen to soft, classical music as well as enjoys having a set of  ‘home rules and rituals’ which he uses as guidance for his day-to-day life.

Some time ago, Sam’s parents have been talking to a doctor, which is when they have heard of the term ‘high sensitivity’ for the first time. Since then, they have been looking into this trait in order to find out more about Sam’s high sensitivity and how they can support him in the best way possible.

  • How does having a high level of sensitivity impact Sam’s school days?
  • What could Sam’s homeroom teacher do to promote a positive and successful learning experience for him as well as facilitate his day-to-day life in school?
  • Are there any ways in which Sam could benefit from his high sensitivity?

Building up on everything that has been elaborated on in this section, the following part will dive deeper into promoting an inclusive classroom environment for highly sensitive students, considering its design and providing practical ideas for teachers to use in their own classroom.

Additional Resources 
  • Dig Deeper – The Official Website of Dr. Elaine Aron. More information on high sensitivity, including a self-test as well as a test to find out whether a child is highly sensitive, can be found on the following website: https://hsperson.com
  • A website with useful articles, resources, and information on highly sensitive
    children: https://happysensitivekids.com
  • This is a great mindfulness app for children aged 5 to 10 https://www.stopbreathethink.com/kids/



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