How to help students cope with visual overstimulation in the classroom
Visual overstimulation occurs when one’s surroundings are too visually stimulating, causing overwhelm and distraction. To get an idea of how overstimulation feels, picture walking into a clothing store, and every inch of it is covered in clothing that has been strewn around. It’s easy to see how this could cause anxiety or overwhelm, and you might want to leave the store right away.
Overstimulation feels like that! However, it can happen in environments that seem fine to others. Then the overstimulated person is expected to function as others are, while in an environment that doesn’t work for them. Overstimulation can happen to anyone, though it is especially common among kids with autism or ADHD.
Why do kids get visually overstimulated?
Visual overstimulation is pretty common among kids, even if they don’t have a condition associated with overstimulation. Their brains are developing and figuring out the world around them.
With multiple objects, lights, and decorations around the room, visual overstimulation can occur in the classroom. Overstimulated students may have difficulty listening to the teacher or completing tasks. To prevent this, teachers can try the following strategies.
Reduce distracting decor
We know this one can be difficult! After all, teachers want their classrooms to be welcoming, comfortable, and fun. This doesn’t mean that you need to avoid decorations. There are ways to decorate your classroom while keeping in mind students who are prone to overstimulation.
One study took a look at how classroom visuals affected 4 students with autism. The following aspects affected whether students felt comfortable in the classroom:
- Color palette
- Feature congestion
- Size of the classroom
Students specified that they preferred calming colors such as shades of brown and white. They also noted that cluttered objects made it much harder for them to concentrate.
It’s best if decor is displayed behind where the students sit so that they don’t see them during work time. When teachers are speaking in front of a simple wall or whiteboard, it’s easier for students to focus. If the classroom has decorations that you aren’t able to change, try bringing large sheets of paper to hang up for a temporary blank background.
For visual aids used during specific lessons, like figurines, games, or posters, store them out of sight when not in use.
Utilize cognitive stimulation tools
This can make a big difference for students struggling with attention and focus. Utilizing brain training tools specializing in attention can provide students with a fun activity that helps develop their ability to sort through stimulation. This helps them understand what to pay attention to in other contexts.
HappyNeuron’s printable worksheets can help students to work on these skills. These can be used as an in-class activity, and provide a way for students to focus on one task in their visual field which will also help them focus more in the long run.
Turn off computers when not in use
Animated screen savers can be very distracting. Animations are eye-catching for students and cause them to continuously move their attention to the screen. Make sure to turn off any computer or smart board screens when not in use to avoid this issue.
Occasional distraction is normal in the classroom. If a student struggles to pay attention and seems to be highly affected by visual stimulation, try rethinking the decor, utilizing cognitive stimulation tools, and turning off screens. These are great ways to get them back on track!