In this new occasional series by Paediatric Occupational Therapist Mariza Ferreira, we consider some of the sensory, motor coordination and emotional regulatory issues which could be affecting children with high learning potential.

Dear Teacher,

Let me start by saying that I do not want your job.  I cannot imagine standing (or in the recent year sitting in front of a computer) for hours teaching a group of anywhere between 15 to 30 pupils.  You need a special grace for that which I don’t have but you do.  And I applaud you.  I think you have one of the hardest jobs in the world and if the last year has proven anything, it is that your job is one of the most essential to our society as a whole.

What I am good at is working with children on a one-to-one basis, to first of all identify and second of all help them overcome particular barriers they have in carrying out those tasks they need to do or want to do at home or at school.  My job allows me to really get into the detail of things in order to not only help a child directly, but also provide you with some bespoke management strategies in class for that particular child.  I have always maintained that my role is a supportive one to yours; we combine our various professional strengths and together give that child a better chance of success.

The children I typically see are the ones who struggle severely with having the ‘correct behaviour’ in class in order to learn… They can’t keep up with writing and if they do their handwriting is illegible, they are too active, not attentive enough, too disruptive, too oppositional, very argumentative, away with the fairies, have flashes of brilliance but, if you blink, you’ll miss it – the list goes on.  In most of these cases, when I look at how they function i.e. carry out a detailed occupational therapy assessment, I can almost always identify the roots, or some of the roots, for their behaviour being out of line.  Some of these roots are motor coordination difficulties, sensory processing difficulties, and emotional regulation difficulties – the stuff a paediatric Occupational Therapist loves to tackle.

It is not always easy to work with these children but I more often than not get good results.  Just recently a mother of a high learning potential (HLP) child, with a combination of the above mentioned difficulties that has resulted in him being homeschooled, said this after my initial assessment, “You got him to do more in the assessment than others have for years”.  I am not telling you this to sing my own praises, I am telling you as I want to share with you a mindset change I made years ago which was really the turning point of my success rate in working with children.  I believe it will really help you too – especially if you feel at your wits end with THAT child in your class.  I realise I may be preaching to the choir here, but I am going to do it anyway.  Here it is:

We need to understand and believe that children have a fundamental need to ‘fit in’ and ‘be good’.  If their behaviour is off, they are trying to tell you something.  They are trying to tell you they need help.  They use behaviour as their words fail them. 

If you really agree with me and believe this, your approach towards them will be different without you needing to anguish over exactly what you need to change.  And here is the secret:  Children pick up on this belief, they feel safer, and more willing to try again!

Seven Top Tips for Spotting Issues:

  1. THAT child who is refusing to write or who is sooo slow at it, could he be ‘telling’ you that it is physically the hardest thing he is doing at school?  Every day, in every lesson?
  2. THAT child who is constantly on the go, could she be ‘telling’ you that she is doing it because she is in fact trying to get her body to a place where she can focus on what you are teaching instead of trying to disrupt you and the other kids?
  3. THAT child who is not attentive enough, could he be ‘telling’ you that he is so bothered by the scratchy feel of his clothes that all his mental energy is going into keeping it together and not exploding mid lesson, instead of not being interested in what you have to say?
  4. THAT child who is so disruptive, could she be ‘telling’ you that all the colourful pictures on the wall are hurting her eyes and she is trying to avoid them but wherever she looks there are even more busy walls which she is trying to get away from in order to feel calm?
  5. THAT child who is oppositional and argumentative, could he be ‘telling’ you that the work is actually too easy for him and that he wants you to challenge him more or allow him to work at a quicker pace, instead of trying to have a daily stand-off with you?
  6. THAT child who is away with the fairies, could she be ‘telling’ you that all the noise in the class is so overwhelming that she shuts down, instead of becoming exhausted with trying to figure out which noises or voices are the important ones?
  7. THAT child with the flashes of brilliance, could he be ‘telling’ you that he is physically working so hard on holding the pencil or cutting in a straight line that there’s very little energy left to consistently work at the high intellectual level you know he is capable of?

Once you start thinking about what underlying message a child’s behaviour is trying to tell you, it becomes much easier to manage the issues they are struggling with.

In my next blog we will look at how you can help THAT child who struggles significantly with handwriting.

Your specialist Paediatric Occupational Therapist

Mariza Ferreira is an independent specialist children’s Occupational Therapist, who runs The OT Company. Her motto is ‘Change The World One Child At A Time’. Mariza received the Above and Beyond Inspirational Therapist Award in 2019 for her work with children with high learning potential or dual or multiple exceptionality.  Discover more about her online courses at  and find out more about Mariza in her blog One Occupational Therapist’s Journey into Dual or Multiple Exceptionality.