Sep 20

A Quick Guide to “Sensory Processing”

Most of us remember learning about the 5 senses in school and chances are you have heard something about sensory processing sometime in your life, but what exactly is it and why is it important?  How does it differ from person to person?  Before we get started, here are some important terms to note:


What is Sensory Processing?

According to the Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions, sensory processing is “Interpreting and organizing varied stimuli, including those acquired by the tactile, proprioceptive, visual, vestibular, auditory, gustatory, and olfactory senses.”  (sensory processing. (n.d.) Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing. (2012). Retrieved September 11 2016 from


What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

According to The American Heritage Medical Dictionary, “A disorder characterized by oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sensory stimuli, motor control problems, unusuallyhigh or low activity levels, and emotional instability, thought by some to be caused by disruption in the processing and organizing of sensory information by the central nervous system. Its status as a clinical diagnosis is controversial. Also called sensory integration dysfunction.”  (The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2007, 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.)


Many people with ADHD and Autism face oversensitivity or undersensitivity to sensory stimuli in everyday environments, causing much distress and often times very painful experiences, when their typical peers do not. It can be difficult for the individual to describe what is happening or what they are feeling, especially making it difficult to find the right words if their level of pain is quite high. Often times, confusing behaviors may be observed in response to the oversensitivity or under sensitivity, such as: obsessing over a tag in their clothes, refusing to shower, avoiding loud rooms or areas with certain types of lighting, or refusing to sit by their best friend at lunch because they are eating salt and vinegar chips. Other times, and often seen with children, they may even try to escape the environment causing them pain. While this is an area of study we are continually learning more and more about every day, it is important to know that people experience the five senses differently and that these experiences can be uncomfortable for some.


The Cloverleaf classroom environment is as sensory-sensitive as possible in order to optimize learning for all students.  Some provide noise-canceling headphones, others have light covers that filter out harsh overhead lighting, and several include alternative seating choices, weighted vests, medicine balls, tactile brushes, diffusers with essential oils, fidgets and many more.


Here is a quick guide on DIY sensory toys for at home or on-the-go, as well as a few sensory friendly events in Atlanta:

DIY Sensory Toys

  • sensory-bottlesSensory Bottle: Put 1/2 water, 1/2 baby oil, food coloring, glitter, and colorful beads or buttons in an empty clear bottle. For extra fun, add paperclips and see what happens when you touch the outside of the bottle with a magnet.


  • Balloon Fidget: Put sand, small rocks, coffee grounds, hair gel, baby powder, water, flour, or rice inside a balloon or latex-free glove. Test out each one or try mixing ingredients to find your favorite one!


  • Scented Lap Pad: Fill a large gallon heavy duty ziplock bag with rice and place in a small pillow case. Sprinkle a few drops of calming Lavender or focusing Peppermint essential oils on the pillowcase each use or as needed.


  • Touch and Feel Sticks: Hot glue sandpaper, felt, cotton balls, paper towel, and foil each onto different large popsicle stick. Keep in a ziplock bag for quick and easy travel.


  • Rain Stick: Put a box of toothpicks and 1/2-1 cup of sand in a clear, empty bottle. Decorate the outside of the bottle as desired.


Atlanta Sensory Friendly Events

  • legoland-discovery-center-atlanta-e1473125058120-419x236LEGOLAND Discovery Center: The first ever Sensory Friendly Night on Friday, September 30 from 7-9pm


  • Georgia Symphony Orchestra: “GSO Sensory Friendly Concert” March 4, 2017 @ 2:00pm, Marietta Performing Art Center AMC Sensory Friendly Films: Every second and fourth Tuesday and Saturday, turn the lights up and the sound down, so you can get up, dance, walk, shout or sing!


  • Children’s Museum of Atlanta: Experience “Sensory Friendly Saturdays” the first Saturday of every month. The museum will open for families at 9am and includes a sensory modified setting, limited admissions, and sound and lighting adjustments.


  • Center for Puppetry Arts: “Sensory Friendly Programming” includes Tales of Peter Rabbit (9/14-9/25), La Cucarachita Martina (9/28-10/9), The Jungle Book (10/12-10/23), The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow (10/25-11/6), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (11/8-12/31), The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (1/3-1/22), The Adventure of Mighty Bug (1/24-3/12), The Dragon King (3/14-4/2), and Pete the Cat (4/4-5/21)


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Sep 15

TBT: Check Out Our Rube Goldberg Machines!

In honor of #TBT (ThrowBackThrusday), enjoy Ms. Emily’s awesome science post from the Cloverleaf Archives–

During our Physical Science Unit, as we studied simple machines and physical forces, things took a comedic turn when our class got acquainted with Mr. Rube Goldberg.  We watched some fun videos of “Rube Goldberg Machines” (featured below) that had us equal parts cackling and curious.  The students were so inspired, they begged for us to make our own! It was one of those “going off the script” teacher moments where following the students’ passions and excitement far outweighed the original lesson plan.

We immediately started brainstorming ideas!  Each class determined what their end goal would be, and then we worked backwards.  Through teamwork, problem-solving, Grit, and MUCH trial and error, each class made a machine that worked!  Check them out–

These Rube Goldberg machines are a testament to the student-centered learning model at Cloverleaf.  The students’ ideas were far deeper and more creative than what we would have originally done had we stuck to the written lesson plan.  Voice and creativity in the classroom empower students to pursue their curiosity and build confidence as life-long learners.


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Aug 31

What do all those Special Ed terms mean?

Navigating the world of Special Education information and resources can be daunting for any parent. Between evaluations, reports, meetings and medical appointments, abundant information is given to you, yet little time is spent providing a careful explanation of what all of its means.

How can a parent become more knowledgeable in Special Education terminology in order to become an even stronger advocate for your child?

Here are some key terms and acronyms to get familiar with and grow your “lingo confidence!”:

Ari the Cloverleaf Therapy Dog demonstrating weights as accommodations

Ari the Cloverleaf Therapy Dog demonstrating weights as accommodations

Accommodation: an adjustment to your child’s learning environment which can include more time to complete an assessment, breaks during the school day or fidgets to reduce distractions. Students continue to learn the same content as their peers.

Assessment:  a process of collecting information about a student’s social and/or academic learning needs.  Assessments can be formal or informal, and formative or summative– so much vocabulary!  Check out the Cloverleaf Assessment & Grading Policy for definitions and further info.

Inclusion: A term that refers to meeting a student’s individuals special needs within a mainstream classroom.  The term originated amidst the IDEA legislation (see acronyms below) around “least restrictive environment.”

Modification: an adjustment in the expectations for student learning and how they show that learning. With a modification, a student may be asked to complete an assignment that is similar to other classmates but show his or her work in an alternative way.

And as if the ample terminology wasn’t enough, then we have the acronyms:

AT: Assistive Technology: a tool, device, equipment or software that supports a child in his or her social and academic environments. AT can be as simple as a highlighter, or computer apps that type words as they are read aloud.

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This law guides how services are provided to students with disabilities and special needs. To know more about IDEA visit the federal website For more specific rules pertaining to Georgia, go to the Georgia Department of Education website.


IEP: Individualized Education Program. A collaborative document between parents, teachers and school support team intended to outline academic and/or social supports for a student within the classroom.  At Cloverleaf, some students come to us with IEPs and others do not.  In our program, students and teachers co-create Learner Profiles and Portfolios in place of IEPs.  When students transition, we also write a detailed Transition Plan to support them in their next setting.


Practicing OT skills and math at the same time

OT:  Occupational therapy: A service that focus on the development of students’
motor skills that supports their ability to accomplish daily living tasks which can include self care, handwriting, etc.

This is just a sampling of common terms and acronyms.  If you have any questions about these or others you’ve heard, please do not hesitate to ask!  Leave us a comment, or feel free to email or call.  We’re happy to help navigate the sometimes complicated world of special education!  For additional vocab and more practical information, check out the website Understood.  The site is a wealth of resources for parents raising neurodiverse kids.

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