When using exercise balls as desk chairs, children diagnosed with ADD can improve their performance in the classroom. Exercise balls in the classroom for students with ADD have a variety of benefits when used as a seating option. Children diagnosed with ADD frequently deal with significant academic and sensory processing problems, making typical academic activities challenging for these young people. Sitting still and paying attention are among the top challenges for students with ADD. In fact, more than one-third of students with ADD eventually drop out of school, so these young people need as much classroom support and as many accommodations as deemed appropriate by the Individualized Educational Team.
Benefits of Exercise Balls
Exercise balls can serve as “balancing and organizing chairs” for children diagnosed with ADD who struggle with sitting still and staying focused while sitting in traditional chairs or desks. These balls are available in a range of sizes and styles and are manufactured with weighted bottoms, legs, and stabilizing holders. When a child with ADD consistently sits on an exercise ball, this provides an outlet to release excess energy, as the child is able to fidget and move around much more freely than when seated in a traditional plastic or wooden chair. Because children with ADD have difficulty concentrating on more than one task at a time, exercise balls allow these students to focus their attention on assignments without also needing to worry about remaining still.
Exercise balls promote upright posture and provide a comfortable yet secure seating area. These balls can often be purchased at department stores or exercise stores at an affordable price. Traditional exercise balls and balls with a weighted bottom can also be used for exercises that encourage motor coordination, balance, eye contact, and attention building skills.
Exercise Balls in the Home and Classroom
Children diagnosed with ADD who respond well to sitting on exercise balls may be able to use them in the classroom environment, provided that this accommodation is agreed upon by members of an IEP or 504 team. Some public school resource rooms have exercise balls available for children to use on an as-needed basis. Occupational and physical therapists also frequently use exercise balls as part of their treatment sessions.
Research has found that students diagnosed with ADD who used therapy balls as a seating option actually stayed in their seats longer and improved their handwriting legibility as compared to when these same students were seated in regular desks. This provides strong support for the use of exercise balls as classroom desks.
It is important to set limits and rules for the use of the therapy ball as a seating device. Every student that uses one should know that the ball has to stay in a designated space in front of the student’s desk and that the student must stay seated on the ball at all times. If the student does not follow the directions or does not stay seated on the ball as instructed, then he can lose the privilege of using the ball. It is helpful to use colored masking tape and “tape out” a square on the floor to give the child a visual cue as to the designated space for the ball.
If the student uses the ball appropriately in the classroom, parents may wish to provide these exercise balls in the home so that children can release physical energy in a productive manner while completing written assignments, reading a book, or working on therapeutic techniques. Many children diagnosed with ADD react positively while seated on exercise balls, as they are not only helpful, but also fun to use.
Addressing Sensory Issues
Using exercise balls in the classroom for students with ADD can improve sensory-related issues, and since many children with this diagnosis have sensory processing issues, exercise balls can be very therapeutic. For example, an exercise ball can help a child with poor body awareness be more conscious of where their body is located in space. Knowing where the body is in space plays a big role in maintaining self-control. Sitting on ball chairs also improves posture by working the “core” muscles, which include the back and abdominal muscles. These “core” muscles provide a stable base from which the rest of the body works. If the muscles are working constantly to stay upright and focused, this can be very organizing for a child. The more organized a child is, the more energy she has to focus in on schoolwork.
The concept of using exercise balls in the classroom for students with ADD is one that is safe and simple to follow. Parents who feel that this technique may be suitable for their child should discuss the issue further with teachers and school support staff.
Dunn, W., Bennett, D. (2002). Patterns of Sensory Processing in Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. OTJR: Occupation, Participation and Health. 22(1), 4-15.
Schilling, D. L., Washington, K., Billingsley, F. F., & Deitz, J. (2003). Classroom Seating for Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Therapy Balls Versus Chairs. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57, 534–541.
Rosenblum, G. (2000). Your child and ADHD. Singapore: Creative Publishing International.