Creating Sensory-Smart Classrooms for Neurodivergent Learners - Everything You Need to Know

5 min read

Neurodivergent students process information differently. A cookie-cutter classroom environment can pose a tough nut to crack. As a teacher, you're juggling many balls to create classrooms catering to everyone's learning styles. Here is a detailed guide with everything you need to know about creating sensory-smart classrooms for neurodivergent learners.

Understanding Neurodiversity

Neurodivergent students think and learn in ways outside "typical" neurological development. It represents a natural variation in cognitive functioning. There are many different types of neurodivergent learning differences. Challenges with communication, social skills, repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivity characterize Autism Spectrum Disorder. Students with ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive, which can impact focus. Dyslexia impacts reading, writing, letter reversal, and sequencing abilities.

Neurodiversity should be recognized as a natural variation in learning needs. You can help neurodivergent students succeed academically and socially by forming the right environment.

Why Sensory-Smart Classrooms Matter

Many neurodivergent conditions involve sensory processing differences. Input like fluorescent lights, noisy HVAC systems, and the cacophony of student voices can overwhelm the nervous system.

Modifying the sensory environment minimizes distractions and anxiety, so students can self-regulate. When students feel safe and calm, they are available for learning. Simple upgrades to lighting, acoustics, furniture, and tools can remove barriers to achievement.

Research shows that sensory-supportive interventions improve classroom engagement, time on task, and completion of learning activities for neurodivergent and neurotypical students. The students have the right environment where they can learn in a way that suits them.

Planning Your Sensory-Smart Classroom

Students with neurodiversity often require unique spaces and sensory tools. You can create a universally welcoming classroom with some careful planning. You can achieve your goals without significant renovation.

The first thing you need to do is understand your students' sensory needs. What might work for a particular group of students might be useless for another. The best way to glean this information is to consult parents and occupational therapists. You can create a productive, less stressful atmosphere that encourages better engagement. Take feedback from students as well.

Pay close attention when students seem distracted, overstimulated or shut down during different activities and environments. Note what sensory triggers may be involved - loud noises, bright lights, or other stimuli.

When designing the class, make incremental changes and stay within budget constraints. Remember that even the most minor upgrades make a difference. Here are some things to consider when creating your sensory-smart classroom.


Lighting is an affordable way to aid the learning of neurodivergent students. It impacts students' visual processing and ability to regulate attention. Fluorescent lighting can cause visual strain, headaches, and overstimulation. We recommend installing the dimmer switches and adjusting brightness levels throughout the day as needed.

You should prioritize the use of natural lighting by positioning desks near windows. Natural light regulates circadian rhythms, melatonin production, and serotonin levels. You can add adjustable blinds or shades to control glare and reflections during intense sunlight.

Position computer monitors carefully to prevent glare on screens. Some students may benefit from wearing sunglasses or hats indoors if light sensitivity is severe.

Colors create a proper classroom environment. Colors have their electromagnetic frequency and can shape cognition and mood. Using colors in your classroom, like color marker boards, can aid learning.


Try to reduce echoes and ambient noise by installing acoustic panels, curtains, or other sound-absorbing materials. Also, minimize outdoor noise like hallway commotion by keeping doors closed.

Provide noise-canceling headphones to students who must block out distracting sounds during work time. For those who crave auditory input, you can allow the use of headphones to play music. Offer disposable earplugs or allow students to wear noise-reducing earmuffs as needed.

While teaching, use visual cues like hand raising instead of shouting to get students' attention. Choose soft surfaces like carpet, area rugs, and curtains, which help dampen sounds and echoes. You can Equip your classroom with desks and chairs with casters or glides that produce minimal noise. Auditory overstimulation can be very distracting, so you must control noise levels proactively.

Touch and Texture

The sense of touch is powerful for neurodivergent students. You can prioritize furniture, tools, and materials with engaging textures and tactile input in your classroom. Select soft, cozy furniture pieces like beanbags, pillows, or crash pads where students can comfortably relax.

Offer various fidget tools with different textures, such as sensory bands, stress balls, and fidget spinners. Introduce tactile materials like playdough, slime, beads, putties, activity boards, sand, water table, etc.


Furniture choices impact neurodivergent students' ability to stay regulated and focused. You can replace rigid chairs with flexible seating options such as exercise balls, wobble stools, or rocking chairs. The motions help expel restlessness while remaining seated. Use standing desks so students can change working positions as needed. You can promote individual space for solo work or move the table around to encourage teamwork. U-shaped tables like the horseshoes can offer a new way of instructing your students. Having a variety of seating and workspace options empowers students to self-regulate in the best way for their sensory preferences.

Research indicates that incorporating movement into the daily routine improves students' learning capacities. Therefore, when designing your home classroom, make provisions for periodic physical activity. It could range from a brief stroll, a five-minute stretching session, to a quick 30-second jog. Seizing opportunities for integrating short exercises throughout the day is highly beneficial.

A classroom atmosphere where students feel safe, focused, and primed to learn creates an inclusive, equitable education for all. When sensory barriers are cleared away, students can throw themselves wholeheartedly into academic and social growth. School Outlet has a treasure trove of tools to feather your classroom nest, creating a nurturing ground for neurodivergent students to flourish. Speak to our knowledgeable customer service representative at (877) 398-6449, email us here, or use our live chat feature to equip yourself with the right tools to help your students spread their wings and reach for the sky.