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Enhancing Student Comfort in Special Needs Classrooms - Photosensitivity & Lighting Solutions

By Belinda Kenley posted 15 days ago


By Doug Trimbach, Vice President of Energy Optimizers, USA

Photosensitivity is an increased sensitivity to light, and it can lead to discomfort or adverse reactions, particularly for children with special needs. Recognizing and managing photosensitivity is important for creating an accessible learning environment for students, and it can result in a space with fewer behavioral incidents.

The causes of photosensitivity vary, such as certain medical conditions, medications, or specific neurological disorders. It can lead to discomfort, visual disturbances, headaches, decreased ability to focus, or even seizures in some students.  Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) seem especially susceptible to photosensitivity, and it is a critical educational and therapeutic consideration. Traditional fluorescent lighting is a primary culprit in our schools, and the means to address the problem are now readily and affordably available.

Over the last decade, fluorescent lighting has slowly been replaced by new LED lighting, which offers a more energy-efficient light source with little-to-no flicker, zero audible hum, and greater customization. Beyond efficiency, LED lighting offers several specific advantages for special needs classrooms. As school districts move to LED lighting or seek to better tailor the lighting in specific spaces, the following considerations and benefits offer guidance.

  • Customizable Lighting: Certain LED lighting, when paired with controls, can be easily adjusted in terms of brightness, color temperature, and even color, allowing teachers to create an environment that is most conducive to student needs. For example, cooler temperatures may help improve focus, while warmer temperatures can create a calming atmosphere.
  • Reduced Sensory Overload: For students with sensory sensitivities, harsh lighting can be distracting and uncomfortable. Tailored LED lighting can provide softer, more diffuse light that reduces glare and minimizes potential overstimulation.
  • Improved Concentration: The ability to adjust lighting settings based on the time of day and classroom activity can help maintain student focus and attention. Bright lighting can be used for tasks that require focus, while softer lighting can be used for calming activities.
  • Enhanced Mood and Well-being: Properly tailored lighting can help improve the mood and emotional well-being of students. For students with autism, ADHD, or other special needs, having a calming, comfortable environment can make a significant difference in their overall experience.
  • Reduced Flicker: LEDs typically produce little to no flicker compared to some other types of lighting, such as fluorescent lights. This is particularly beneficial for students who may be sensitive to flickering lights, which can cause discomfort or even trigger seizures in some individuals.
  • Flexible Learning Environments: By tailoring the lighting, teachers can create different zones or moods within the same classroom, which can support various learning activities and accommodate different student needs.

Overall, tailored LED lighting can significantly improve the learning environment and contribute to student well-being.  The options below are ranked from least to most flexible and beneficial.

  1. Single Kelvin Temperature + Dimming:  This solution can either take the form of new LED tube lamps with external driver or a new light fixture with a dimmable driver. This is the least costly option and allows for simple light level control when paired with a compatible dimmer switch.
  2. Kelvin Temperature Control + Dimming: This solution takes the form of a new light fixture, paired with a wireless controller allowing for full light level control as well as kelvin temperature adjustment.  Kelvin temperature refers to the warmth or coolness of the light produced, providing a more or less calming classroom environment at the touch of a button.
  3. RGB+W + Dimming: This solution also takes the form of a new light fixture, coupled with wireless light level control and the choice of the full range of reds, greens, and blues (RGB) and every combination in between.  

As school districts consider lighting options, these guidelines can not only improve energy efficiency but also improve student learning and overall well-being.