Guest Author - Bonnie Sayers
Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload is a book written and illustrated by school-based Occupational Therapist Jennifer Veenendall. Jennifer also wrote Arnie and His School Tools: Simple Sensory Solutions that Build Success
Izzy is now in first grade, but having a difficult time with the structure and environment of the classroom. The book is written through Izzy's point of view, giving the reader a first-hand account of how sensory overload occurs throughout the day of an Elementary school student. It appears that her previous book is written from Arnie's perspective as well.
First I would like to note that Jennifer Veenendall mentions and thanks the authors of How Does Your Engine Run? Alert Program for Self-Regulation. This spiral-bond book is one I should have picked up years ago. The Alert Program for Self-Regulation has a conference schedule plus this hand-out.
Overall I really enjoyed perusing through Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload and can relate to much of what she goes through on a daily basis. The visuals are very helpful to other children in the same age group. You can identify with one of the issues Izzy shares, whether that is the noise level of the classroom, too much visual stimulation on the walls or crowded hallways. I don't recall any similar books when my sons who are now teens were just starting out in the elementary school setting.
Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload is intended to be utilized along with the Alert Program and to help students understand the basic concepts of sensory modulation.
Izzy starts by sharing her feelings on first grade not living up to the expectations she had through the feedback from her kindergarten teacher. Thirty-two days later and first grade is not that great an experience for Izzy.
Izzy shares that she spent the first twenty days crying while trying to find a safe place from the craziness of the classroom. The illustration shows her underneath the desk, eyes closed, hugging herself tightly. The next page shows three classmates sitting on the circle rug lounging around, with one boy pointing and looking toward Izzy.
I thought the size of the kids indicated older than first grade, plus I thought it was odd that the first four pictures did not include a teacher or aide. The next set of two pages and illustrations portrayed Izzy in distress covering her ears with her eyes closed. Izzy mentions hating center time, prefering " crazy loud time" instead. This is a term I have never heard before. At first I was thinking this is similar to circle time, but center time is where some kids get together at a table to do work in a group. I think utilizing center time might be confusing for some kids that have a different term.
Izzy has a hard time dealing with Grace, who is always in her group due to her voice that hurts her ears " It makes my insides rattle." Izzy is also upset that the kids call her a baby, " Noisy places make me feel frustrated."
Izzy throws tantrums deliberately so she can be sent to Mr. Otterson's office, who is the Principal. " His office is quiet, and there is a beanbag chair in there that I love to sit on." My first instinct when reading this passage was that there should be a beanbag chair in her classroom to help her and other kids adjust to their classroom environment in a calm and soothing manner.
Another issue for Izzy is having more classmates in her first grade compared to kindergarten. Kids bump into her, step on her shoelaces and forget their line basics. The illustration has kids going to their lockers with the text mentioning lockers. This is also something that I have not ever seen in an elementary school or heard of until at least Middle or High School years. I think kids that are very literal in their thinking will not see the locker room connection or relate to this. More than likely there are cubbie holes in classrooms at this grade level for kids to place their lunch bags and backpacks with hooks for their jackets.
I am not sure if intentional or not but the first half of Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload has Izzy with her eyes closed. Izzy thinks that when kids bump into her they are being bullies, yet her teacher explains to her it was an accident. " I still wanted to belt him. I felt like I was going to blow into pieces." As a parent I was not very pleased with the word being used by Izzy during her frustration, which changes to anger and herself being the bully with her thoughts of rage.
Finally on page 17 sensory processing disorder is mentioned with the headline on the page DANGER! Izzy explains that her brain messes up signals and cannot distinguish between a bump by accidenty and a threat to hurt her. She even admits to hitting Alexander one time because her brain thought she was in danger. I wonder how a Principal would react to that explanation at school!
Here is where the introduction of an occupational therapist takes place, " The occupational therapist at my school helps kids learn to listen to their bodies and find ways to feel calmer and ready to learn. She's been helping me figure out the things that make me feel uncomfortable and angry at school."
Next Izzy shares how her Mom now warns her before she turns on the hairdryer and the vacuum cleaner. Izzy has been known to slam her door or yell at her sister due to being irritable when either of these are turned on at home. She now uses headphones to block out these noises.
There is a lot of artwork hanging in Izzy's classroom, but it is way too much for Izzy to focus on calendar time " when there are 26 giant construction paper apples floating around in the air. I also don't like the lights in our classroom. They are bright and make it hard to think."
Years ago the grocery store close to home hung down these signs at the checkout line. My nonverbal son Matthew was terrified of passing underneath them and would have to go around the store to get to the other side of the checkout. I also want to point out that the book is on sensory processing disorder with autism not being mentioned. It is possible to have both or only one of these disorders.
Izzy now sits closer to the teacher with Grace in another group. Her locker is at the end now giving her " a bigger space bubble." Izzy also uses earplugs in the lunchroom and gym class. She also goes to the motor room, which is like a small gym with swings and jumpy things. She also uses a heavy blanket on her lap during morning meeting and likes being rolled up with pillows and beanbags. There is a squishy fidget she sometimes uses and the teacher now plays classical music when they write in their journals. The fluorescent lights are not turned on all the time with the kids being more focused and calmer.
The end of the book has pages for parents and professionals - a description of Sensory Processing and Sensory Modulation Disorders, suggested websites, recommended children's books, resources for parents and teachers plus a list of discussion questions for kids to talk about the book. These include what makes Izzy feel scared, what tools help her feel calm, do you think Izzy is trying to be naughty and what can the teacher do to help her feel more comfortable.
I would have liked a page describing the role of the Occupational Therapist with an explanation of a sensory diet for the classroom. How does the IEP fit into this with goals for the class and therapist plus modifications for the classroom. There are communication books for teachers to pass back and forth wtih parents, indicating a problem or issue in the classroom so no child would have to endure a month of sensory overload. I don't think any parent would want their child to suffer for 32 days in a classroom and having to spend 20 of them hiding under a desk. A teacher should contact a parent if they notice their child is constantly covering their ears.