Spoons Theory and Sensory Processing Difficulties

We often hear spoon theory discussed when talking about fatigue conditions. However, the same principle applies for many mental health conditions, and particularly for children working with sensory processing challenges.

Imagine this:

A child wakes up each morning with 20 spoons. 

However, they struggled to settle last night – take away one spoon (19 spoons). 

At breakfast, their favourite Youtube channel has not been updated  – lose one spoon (18 spoons). 

Their breakfast cereal brand has changed the recipe – it tastes wrong – lose one spoon (17 spoons). 

As they get dressed, the seams of their socks make their feet feel claustrophobic – lose one spoon (16 spoons). 

Their school jumper was washed in the wrong detergent , it scratches their skin like a wall of nails and the collar feels like it is strangling them – lose one spoon (15 spoons). 

Their toothbrush is new, the bristles are too hard – lose one spoon (14 spoons). 

On the way to school, there are roadworks on the street, this has blocked their path and the noise is overwhelming – lose 2 spoons (12 spoons). 

As they enter the school playground, the roadworks made them late, so they cannot play with their friends as they want to – lose 1 spoon (11 spoons). 

Their teacher is off sick, and the supply does not know about their SPD – lose 1 spoon (10 spoons). 

The supply has not been made aware that the carpet makes them feel dys-regulated, and their fidget toy has been moved, frustration rises, noone is hearing me – lose 2 spoons (8 spoons). 

The register is read wrong, and the supply teacher does not sing the morning song correctly – lose 2 spoons (6 spoons). 

With all the changes, regulation time is forgotten, the morning is long and the classroom is hot because the blinds are not pulled – lose 3 spoons (3 spoons). 

At break time, one of the children will not play the game that they want to – they walk off alone and no one notices – lose 1 spoon (2 spoons). 

On entering the classroom, the supply teacher has put out musical instruments and plays music with high pitch noises – the sound escalates – lose 1 spoon (1 spoon). 

The child walks out of the classroom, desperately seeking regulation and gets told off by a member of staff in the corridor – lose 1 spoon (0 spoons). 

Child can no longer process the environment and cannot regulate, dys-regulation causes them to enter fight/flight and they run down the corridor and hide in the library. School ask for the child to be collected as they cannot calm them down. 

The child returns home, exhausted and in need of decompression, their spoons are spent, and the curl up in their blanket, struggling to understand why no one can hear what they need and every noise, sound, change of environment sending their mind into spirals….. 


What can we do?

Learning about sensory processing disorder, and the wide range of regulation strategies, as well as implementing regulation breaks is a first step to supporting children in the classroom.

Read more – HERE

Read more – HERE


Want to learn more? 

Are you looking for a deeper understanding of child mental health? Our Level 4 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Coaching Diploma takes you into an in depth dive of child mental health and how you can support.  You can join our Level 4 training (here).


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