Sensory Input Helps Children Focus
Children with one or more of the following diagnoses-Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), learning disabilities or an autism spectrum disorder frequently struggle to focus and learn. Decreased muscle tone and the constant need for movement sensory input contribute to fidgeting, sliding off chairs and slouching into positions that interfere with writing and other fine-motor activities. Adaptive seating for students with special needs and alternative positioning provide sensory input that may help these students improve attention to tasks. Here are several suggestions you can try in the classroom setting.
Use of Therapy Ball Chairs in the Classroom
Therapy balls come in all different sizes. A therapist or teacher should choose a ball that enables the child to comfortably sit with her feet resting flat on the floor. Hips and knees should be at 90 degree angles-same as during traditional seating. Special holders can be used that stabilize the ball avoiding unwanted play and distraction. The student may then gently bounce in place while seated at a desk-thus receiving the sensory input that promotes focus and improves muscle tone. At the same time the student’s frequent postural adjustments strengthen the core abdominal and trunk muscles. This is important because increasing strength and muscle tone will also promote motor control to use a pencil, scissors and other classroom tools.
Use of Air Cushions
Air cushions placed on chairs serve a similar function as the therapy ball. However, they are a less costly investment, are easier to store and since they are smaller and less visible-children and teachers may perceive them as making the user appear less “different" than when a therapy ball is used. Air cushions come in different styles and sizes. The round disc-shaped cushions enable greater range-of-motion and sensory input than the wedge shaped cushions. Some children find the wedge shaped cushions to be more comfortable and supportive. Cushions may come with different textures on each side-providing a choice of texture to sit on.
Try Bean Bag Chairs
Bean bags chairs enable a child to sink in, completely molding the chair around his or her body. This provides a great deal of what is called “proprioceptive" sensory stimulation. There are proprioceptive sense organs in the muscles, tendons and joints that tell a child where the body is in space and how it is moving. Children with attention or sensory related disorders may find the sensory stimulation provided by a bean bag chair helps them to focus during quiet activities such as reading, listening to a story with headphones or playing with squeeze toys. Children who need a sensory break may benefit from sitting in a bean bag chair in a quiet area as they calm down and regroup.
Children who find it difficult to maintain their posture all day long while sitting in the traditional classroom chair often benefit from simple position alternatives. They may find that kneeling to work at a desk is a comfortable alternative, especially if they rest their knees on a small cushion. Children who are working on puzzles or playing a card game may lie on their stomachs with weight on their forearms and shoulders. This position provides proprioceptive stimulation to the muscles and joints in the forearms. Providing a variety of seating and positioning options throughout the day may help any child improve focus. These alternatives are especially important in helping children who are easily distracted and demonstrate learning challenges.
Keep in mind that you may need to try several different typs of adaptive seating for students with special needs before finding one that is right for an individual child.