Occupational therapists sometimes suggest sensory seating for children who are constantly fidgeting in their seat. There is a wide variety of different types of alternate seating on the market these days. Wobble cushions are frequently available in schools. Sometimes there are ball chairs or one-legged chairs. More recently there are chairs that are designed to rock! In this post, I hope to help you understand why you might choose different seating and also which seating you could try.
What is the goal of sensory seating?
The goal of seating that moves, such as a wobble cushion, is to allow children to move about in a more appropriate way. So, rather than rocking on their chair or moving about the classroom, the alternate seating allows the child to move in their seat.
How does sensory seating help children who are constantly fidgeting in their seats?
It is hoped that the movement of the wobble cushion or sensory chair decreases other distracting or unsafe movements that the child may be doing to help keep themselves alert. Researchers think that children who benefit from this type of seating process vestibular sensory input differently to their peers. Vestibular sensory input refers to our balance and movement sense (this post gives an explanation if you’re new to the term). This sense is not only responsible for our balance but also helps us to stay alert and focused. Some children need more vestibular input, or movement to keep attending than others. This is where sensory seating comes in.
How do the different types of sensory seating help?
The different types of cushions and chairs are designed to give these children movement opportunities that are safer and less distracting compared to what they might be seeking already. Air-filled cushions provide a little bit of constant movement when the child is seated. One legged stools and ball chairs require the child (or adult) to move in order to stay seated. The newest products on the market even rock, but in a safe way which ensures the child (or adult) does not fall backwards. The aim of these chairs and cushions is to help children (or adults) with their attention.
Which children might benefit from sensory seating?
A child who rocks back constantly in their chair
A child who is constantly moving about in their chair
The child who is constantly fidgeting
A child who is slumped at their desk
When choosing seating:
Make sure you’re monitoring if the seating has made a difference to the child’s focus and attention – see below for tips
Check to see if the child actually prefers the seating!
Make sure the seating is being used correctly – check manufacturer instructions
Monitor, monitor, monitor!
It is very important to make sure the sensory seating is helping rather than creating more of a distraction for the child and or their classmates. It is expected that the child will move about on the seating, however, the aim is that their movement will be more controlled and less of a distraction than it is without the seating.
Has the sensory seating helped to improve the child’s focus in lessons?
Is the child following instructions more accurately?
Does the child answer more questions?
Is the child being less disruptive to their classmates and the lesson when seated on sensory seating?
Does the child stay in their seat longer/more often when on the sensory seating?
Does the child interrupt their peers less when on the alternate seating?
For some children, alternate seating doesn’t make a lot of difference or can make them more distracted. In this case, it is recommended that the seating is removed, or a different option is tried. Indications that it might not be helping includes:
The child becoming completely distracted and just not listening at all
The seating becoming a distraction to others
The child fidgeting about more
The child moving about the classroom more now
When could it be used at home?
When talking about sensory seating most of the information is typically related to the classroom. Sensory seating, however, can be helpful at home and when out and about as well. Some examples include:
At the dining table.
During homework time.
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