Students with sensory processing or integration difficulties have trouble with the way their nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. If you think about it, there are a million little pieces that have to take place for even the simplest of tasks, and if there is a delay or a mis-ordering of these pieces, it can make the task not so simple any more, leading to motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression and difficulty in accomplishing school tasks. These sensory problems can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or just movement–or in multiple senses. It can also be a over-responsive system or an under-responsive system. If the child has a over-responsive system, he can find clothing, physical contact, light, sound, food, or other sensory input to be unbearable. Another might under-responsive and show little or no reaction to stimulation, even pain or extreme hot and cold. You can find an extensive checklist here, if you think you child might have this difficulty.
In order to help these children, they need to be taught in ways that are adapted to how they process information. An occupational therapist can be very helpful in tailoring activities to help these children process information better, but this option isn't always available for homeschooled children. One of the best things you can do if you child has these difficulties is to relax and be patient with him. Sometimes this is hard because, as a homeschooling parent, you can feel that everyone is judging you and your child. Sometimes it is hard to be patient as your child seems to struggle with the simplest tasks when their peers can accomplish them without any difficulty. The best thing you can do for your child, however, is to take the time to patiently guide your child through practicing tasks like putting on socks, fastening buttons and getting dressed. Your patience and encouragement can be a huge teaching tool. If your child struggles with handwriting, try a program like Handwriting Without Tears, which I learned about from my daughter's Occupational Therapist. You can let your child get up from time to time while he is doing his schoolwork. I have found a mushroom brush helped Alex with his hyper-sensitivity to touch. I just brushed the skin on his arms with firm strokes.
Once you have determined what sensitives (what senses are involved and whether they are hyper or hypo-responsive) your student has incorporate therapeutic tasks throughout your daily tasks. At bathtime you can have them scrub with washcloth or bath brush, or try a variety of soaps and lotions for bathing. Try massaging their arms and legs after a bath. Some kids like electric toothbrushes for sensory reasons, and some cannot tolerate them.
While you are preparing the meals, let your child mix ingredients, especially the thick ones that will really work those muscles. Let child mix and roll dough and push flat. Help your child to carry pots and pans, bowls of water or ingredients.
Have your child push the cart while you are grocery shopping and have him help carry heavy grocery bags when you get home. Have him help put the groceries away. Allow the child to help with the vacuuming or moving the furniture. Let the child help carry the laundry basket or the detergent. Let the child help with digging for gardening or landscaping.
Homeschooling gives your child the time to play! Encourage them to jump, crawl, hop, skip, roll. I have found that my kids really need the motion of a trampoline throughout the day. When my kids were little we would play the sandwich game: a child lies on a couch cushion or large pillow on the floor and you rub their arms and legs while you pretend to put on the ketchup or mayonnaise and then add another pillow or cushion for the top piece of bread pillows and then you provide pressure to the top pillow to make the sandwich complete. They could do this for as long as I had the energy to do it. Swimming in a pool is a wonderful activity if you have that available, as are horseback riding and bowling. Sand, either at the beach or in a sandbox is another great sensory activity. You can buy toys such as scooters or balance boards for them to use as Christmas or Birthday presents.
I really found the book, The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Kranowitz the most helpful resource. There are tons of activities you can do in this book. She also wrote a companion guide, The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.
Update: MaryAnne at Mama Smiles has just posted a wonderful tutorial on how to make a weighted sensory blanket. This can be very calming for those with sensory issues.
I also wanted to thank all of you that voted for me for one of the Top 10 Best Homeschool Special Needs Blog for 2012. It means a lot to me.