Category: Special Needs

Classroom Seating Options for Students Who Struggle Sitting Still

School is almost here and teachers are working hard in classrooms to prepare and organize for the students coming back from summer vacation. After my 15 years of time as a pediatric occupational therapist working with parents, teachers and administrators, I believe that you could walk into any classroom and hear teachers asking students to sit still multiple times a day.

All children need movement and learn by interacting with their world through all of their sensory systems, including their vestibular system that processes movement and their proprioceptive system that processes input from actively using their muscles and joints. Each of us have different movement needs and thresholds, so some need or can only tolerate very small amounts of movement, while others have high needs and high thresholds for movement. Some children come from homes with environments that offer many opportunities for movement while some come from very sedentary home environments. Teachers will find a variety of these students in their classrooms and don’t have control over how a child’s neurological system processes sensory information nor what their home environment offers their sensory system to meet their sensory needs. But, teachers must still teach all these students with different needs!

The STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder reports on their website that, “In a study of children born between July 1995 and September 1997 in the New Haven, CT area 16% of 7 to 11 year olds had symptoms of SPD-SOR (Ben-Sasson et al., 2009). That is the same as 1 in 6 children. An earlier study in younger children (Ahn et al., 2004) found a prevalence of 5%, which is 1 in 20 children.” Yes, with this prevalence, children with sensory processing or sensory integration disorders are in every school and every classroom.

I’ve collaborated over the past several years with parents and teachers to help address the needs of these wiggly students. I’d like to share the seating options that teachers are using to help students regulate their sensory systems and prepare to learn. When you initially present these options, remember that the novelty is exciting for students. Let them try it several times and watch how they react. For all students, the novelty will wear off. Some may never use them again in the year. For those who do use it, you may see it helping. Use these as tools in your toolbox, none of which are a magic wand to fix all concerns. You can always set boundaries and expectations around appropriate use, but keep in mind the purpose of these ideas is to allow students to try to self-regulate their sensory system to prepare for learning. Please remember that these are options to try a few times to see what or what combination works along with other sensory strategies.

I’ve linked some of the products we’ve trialed, but there are other options to research! I’d love to hear if you find other good products!

 

EXERCISE BALLS

Bounce, roll back and forth and activate muscles not used by sitting in a regular school chair (vestibular and proprioceptive input)! Exercise balls are easy to find and you can buy them fairly cheap. You don’t need to buy the highest quality. Yes, exercise balls will become victims of pencil stabbings, so find some good prices. I’ve found some for as cheap as $8-12 at places such as Ross, TJ Maxx, Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon. Be sure to look at height recommendations because small children will not be able to sit on too large of a ball independently. We’ve found that very young students or students with poor core strength or balance aren’t able to stay balanced all day without falling off the exercise balls or the wobble chairs below.

 

WOBBLE CHAIRS

Wobble chairs allow a student to move slightly while having a little more stability than an exercise ball. I first saw these in a classroom that had Hokki stools at the student computers. We assigned a wiggly student to sit on the Hokki stool throughout the day, which allowed him to follow classroom rules to not tip his seat back or get out of his chair during work time. Amazon also sells Hokki stools in two heights: 15″ Hokki stool, 18″ Hokki stool. The next year, we found these Kore chairs that were cheaper and they’ve been great for many students. Here is a link to buy single 14″ Kore wobble chairs from amazon.com. Amazon also sells the 14″ Kore wobble chairs in a set of 3 for a cheaper individual price. We’ve ordered taller Kore wobble chairs for taller students, although at 5’2″ with short legs, I fit most comfortably on the 14″ stool. Here is an Amazon link to the 18.7″ Kore wobble chairs for teens.

 

 

DISC CUSHIONS

The disc cushions are inflated with air and allow a student to slightly move while sitting, rocking and wiggling in a regular school chair. Students who are concerned with being different can use these without standing out. We bought an Isokinetic brand on amazon.com.

 

 

 

ROCKING CHAIRS

We tried a wobble chair with a student with some slight motor difficulties with balance and core strength, but after multiple falls off the wobble chair, we realized we needed another option. We ordered this rocking school chair just for him. He used it the rest of the year without any falls, but was still able to get the movement he needed. We are ordering more of these, especially for the younger students who struggle staying on the exercise balls or wobble chairs without falling. This student also preferred to have a disc cushion on his rocking chair! (Remember that you need to trial the options to see what works!) We bought a Zuma rocker brand. The cheapest price I found to buy more just recently was at worthingtondirect.com

 

RESISTANCE BANDS FOR FEET

We bought the green medium-resistance Thera-Band on amazon.com to tie around chairs and desks for students to kick while they are sitting. We ended up wrapping the resistance band around the desk legs closest to the chair. Stacking chairs was difficult when the resistance band was around the chair legs and then the band would get lost, so this option seemed to be the best. Some students kick, some rest and swing their feet back and forth, and others pull with their hands while kicking with their feet. The resistance against active movement gives the students proprioceptive feedback (input into muscles and joints) that might otherwise be sought out with hitting, pushing or kicking other objects or students. I recently found some similar resistance band, CanDo brand, that was a bit cheaper on schoolspecialty.com.

 

POSITIONING AT DIFFERENT LEVELS

Some teachers got really excited and even rearranged their classrooms to rotate through different seating levels like this. (Notice that wobble chairs are still an option in this classroom also.) The desk legs were adjusted to allow for different heights for sitting on the floor or sitting in a seat. (I didn’t even realize this was possible with the desk legs until after I saw this classroom!) Remember that there is no equipment or expense involved to allow a student to stand at their desk or lay on their tummy to work. Many teachers have small couches, beanbags and pillows to allow this.

 

 

SECLUDED AREAS

Some children need an escape from the multi-sensory environment of a school classroom. Offer quiet corners, under a teacher’s desk or behind a bookshelf or filing cabinet. One teacher told me about a student who created her own secluded area with a few chairs blocking her off from the classroom while she sat on the floor in the corner. She then hung jackets over the backs of the chairs to help block out the extra sensory input that was too difficult to process before returning to her desk.

 

WEIGHTED LAP PADS, BLANKETS OR BACKPACKS


Laying a weighted lap pad or a backpack across the student’s legs provides deep pressure input, which tends to be calming. You may find certain students that want to wear their backpack while sitting at their desk. They may be seeking this calming input into their shoulders. If it’s too difficult to sit in a chair while wearing it on their back, give them the option to wear it on their shoulders frontwards.

One student preferred to either wear his backpack or lay the heavier weighted blanket across his lap while sitting. Another young elementary student had a hard time keeping his hands to himself or from taboo play inside his trousers, but with a weighted lap pad, these behaviors decreased significantly.

We used our local Comfort Weighted Blankets company for the weighted lap pads and blankets. I love having a local company that uses the softest fabric in our own choices.

 

SPINNING OFFICE CHAIRS

I know, I know… What teacher would really allow this? But, I’m only writing about my crazy sensory processing OT ideas if they’ve successfully been implemented in a teacher’s classroom. So, I promise that it has really worked!

Some children have very high movement needs and spinning is a highly intense type of vestibular input (movement) that meets vestibular needs faster than less intense movement. So, one option is to allow a student to spin in the office chair. Teachers most likely have a spinning office chair at their desk that isn’t always being used. Students that don’t have high movement needs will NOT want to spin in the chair or they will only be able to do so for a very short period of time.

The teacher who let a student spin in an office chair while fidgeting with paper clips found that the student participated more appropriately in the classroom, so allowed this everyday as much as he needed. The other students didn’t complain because they realized that they weren’t distracted by the student’s inappropriate behavior when sitting at his student desk and chair. Everyone functioned better! Some older students who let their teacher know they need a break and with prior approval, go into another room to spin in an office chair until their sensory system is ready to return to class and behave appropriately.

 

NOT JUST FOR KIDS!

Finally, you’ll realize that not just students want a variety of options for seating! I, personally, always prefer a wobble chair or exercise ball. This adult school employee realized that her back pain improved drastically by sitting on a disc cushion and wobble chair (after trialing some other expensive office chairs).

Thank you to all the great teachers and parents who have been willing to try out my crazy sensory OT ideas, then given honest feedback about how they’ve worked! I hope this will give you some ideas to brainstorm for your wiggly students! Teachers, I hope this is helpful and that your school will support these accommodations. Parents, this may be just what you need to take to your child’s teacher for support in the classroom. Talk with a pediatric occupational therapist for individualized guidance. Please share your experiences and any other ideas and products that are working for your students!

 

UPDATE: After ordering large quantities of this type of equipment at my school, the school secretary has told me that she prefers ordering from Amazon because of her familiarity with the ordering process, the lower shipping prices and the shorter shipping time. (Sometimes shipping prices can be so high that the order still costs more, even with a lower sales price.) I’ve added Amazon links if you also have these same concerns.

*Since writing this post, I have become part of the Amazon Affiliate Program. If you choose to buy any of these products on Amazon, I’d appreciate if you used the links through my website to help support the work I do at Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

My Life is a Gift. My Life has a Plan.

I have a vivid picture in my mind of the biggest toothy smile I’ve ever seen on the face of 10-year-old girl with thick black hair. The thought of her grin brings tears to my eyes every time I hear her favorite song that she’d sing every time I’d see her for her occupational therapy visits with me. I’ll call her Sara for this article.

Sara and her siblings had been removed from their home with accusations of sexual abuse and other child abuse from her parents. She had been referred to me to address her sensory processing difficulties and helping her to learn to calm herself appropriately. She had been placed in a wonderful, nurturing home with a foster mom who happened to have a background with disabilities and was determined to help Sara and her siblings find the help they needed.

Sara loved intense swinging on a flat platform swing. She swung as high and as hard as she could, occasionally hitting the wall of the therapy room that no other child had hit with the swing before from swinging so high. Sara had one volume of voice that I’d describe “as loud as you can”. Her foster mom and I had finally problem solved that she could quiet her volume while chewing on Slim Jim beef sticks and swinging.

Sara had been going to church with her foster family and attended the children’s class. She had memorized one of the songs she’d learned and would sing it for me while she swung as high as she could on the swing in her loudest voice.

As I watched her, I often thought of the awful, terrifying experiences of abuse she’d experienced in her short life. Then I’d watch her up in the air singing at the top of her lungs, “My life is a gift. My life has a plan. My life has a purpose in heaven it began…”

In those moments, I felt at peace that this young girl was being nurtured and loved out of her past horrors. She had already begun to show the effects of that nurturing, developmentally and emotionally. But those words sung with such fierceness, were the perfect soundtrack to accompany her on her new path. Her life WAS a gift. Her life COULD have a plan. Her life DID have a divine purpose that was not lost through the crimes committed against her.

I’ve been fortunate to be the pianist in the children’s class at my own church for the past 2 years, where the children sing this exact song. Tears run down my face every time I listen to them sing this song and memories of Sara rush back to me, swinging up high, singing as loud as she can, “My life is a gift. My life has a plan. My life has a purpose in heaven it began…”

How important are these words for a young girl whose purpose for almost 10 years seemed to be nothing but an object to be acted upon to satisfy the desires of self-serving adults who could not see or understand a child’s worth? And how blessed was Sara that within a few months of love, nurture and the right treatment could start to feel the healing effects and the new path of hope she was on? I hope and pray that Sara engraves those words into her mind and heart as she travels through life with love and nurturing and she begins to truly understand her true value and worth.

CAPES! (Children’s Adaptive Physical Education Society) at Weber State University

If I’d happened to have a bad day, I still wouldn’t have been able to stop smiling the night I attended the CAPES! Luau Celebration this spring at Weber State University. Children, families and Weber State student volunteers were spending their last night together before the summer break. Families and friends cheered on children, some wearing purple capes, resembling young superheroes, as they knocked down bowling pins, attempted the limbo, threw beanbags at targets and colored pictures.

I talked with families and volunteers about the program and only heard fabulous things about the CAPES! program for children ages 5-12 with developmental disabilities. As a pediatric occupational therapist in Ogden, Utah I’ve seen so many families of children with developmental disabilities struggle to find activities in the community for their children to fit into. But the night of the CAPES! celebration, these little superheroes, with their friends by their side, were fearless with nothing standing in their way of care-free childhood play.

One mom told me that her daughter often stays home while her siblings play with friends or participate in extracurricular activities. But CAPES! is all about her, and she and her parents love the fun, safe place that this program has created without any fear of feeling left out at anytime.

CAPES! is supported by Weber State University students who are enrolled in or have taken either Adaptive Physical Education or Introduction to Special Education classes with the facilitators of the program, Dr. James Zagrodnik and Dr. Natalie Williams. Each child is assigned to a student volunteer throughout the semester. They’ve created a program that builds important experiences and skills for children with developmental disabilities and students who are studying to work with this population in the future.

Drs. Williams and Zagrodnik shared students’ written experiences with me and the stories seemed to follow a similar trend. At the beginning of the semester, students were nervous, unsure of their abilities and chance of enjoying the experience, many having had very little experience with children with disabilities. Quickly, after the first or second time, students were attached to their new, younger friends and celebrating small successes with them. By the end, most students were sad their time was coming to an end, having learned valuable lessons and thoroughly enjoyed their time working with the children.

I watched the children find their student volunteers with excitement to try a new activity, which was followed by beaming faces as the student volunteers gave their full attention and enthusiastic praise. The relationships between the students and children become beneficial to both sides, with a sense of satisfaction and growth for each.

The program has spots for about 35 children each semester. If the program is a good fit, children can continue to participate for 5-6 semesters (spring and fall semesters) or until they age out of the program. They meet for an hour and 15 minutes on Tuesday nights for 10 weeks each semester, where half the time is spent in the pool and half the time doing land-based activities. Each student volunteer plans fun activities for their child to work on any skill they feel is beneficial for the child. The cost is only $25 per child for each semester to help cover costs for the use of the Weber State University facilities.

CAPES! If you are interested in having your child with a developmental disability apply to CAPES!, you can do so at weber.edu/capes/registration. You may be placed on the CAPES! waiting list if the program is full, but I believe it’s worth the wait! Take advantage of this one-of-a-kind program in our Ogden, Utah area!

April 2016 Tube Feeding Support Group with Marsha Dunn Klein

If you can make it to April’s Tube Feeding Support Group for families of “tubies” (the affectionate nickname for those fed by feeding tubes), you are definitely in for a treat! If you would like to learn more about this support group for families, you can visit my original post, Tube Feeding Support Group in Utah.

Marsha Dunn Klein, an internationally-known occupational therapist specializing in feeding, will be the guest speaker for April’s Tube Feeding Support Group!

I’ve attended a couple of Marsha’s conferences for feeding therapists and own some of her books she has co-authored in my feeding therapy reference library. She shares great and helpful information and does so with sincere compassion, understanding and enthusiasm for families and children with feeding difficulties. I’ve always found Marsha a delight to learn from!

Don’t miss this discussion with Marsha Dunn Klein on April 21, 2016 at 6:30 pm at Primary Children’s Hospital on the 4th floor in the Millcreek Conference Room! You may contact Garrett, the parent support group leader, with any questions at 801-554-0184.

Great Santa Clara, Utah Park for Children with SPD

I love finding great parks that promote active play and sensory integration for all children! My plan is to continue to find and share great playgrounds from a pediatric occupational therapist’s perspective to help families in their communities. Great play spaces with a variety of sensory input are so important for children with sensory processing difficulties!

Our family visited Archie H. Gubler Park in Santa Clara, Utah (west of St. George) last winter for a soccer tournament and I saw this great playground! (This park actually was my inspiration to share great play spaces and playgrounds on this blog!) Gubler Park is located next to the Santa Clara fire department at 2735 Rachel Drive. (The link above has directions.) GPS directions were a little sketchy when we went winter 2015, probably because of the new housing developments in the area.

SWINGING!Santa Clara, UT Park

  • 2 traditional sling seat swing seats with room to swing high
  • 1 infant full bucket swing seat
  • 1 high back seat and firm harness, ideal for an older child that may need more trunk support (To whoever designed this playground: Thank you for thinking of children with different abilities!)

CLIMBING!

  • a vertical rope structure to climb across between 2 different play structures
  • climbing structures designed to look like the red mountains in the southern Utah area

SPINNING!Santa-Clara, UT Park

  • 3 angled vertical structures that use your body weight to get you spinning
  • 1 raised small platform with a rail encircling the top, angled to use your body weight to spin and was big enough for 2 small children to climb in together
  • 1 large spinning “umbrella” where several children can sit on the poles or hang from their hands or upside down from their knees (Upside down spinning is the most intense vestibular input you can get!)
  • 1-2 small single seats supported by a single pole that spin (these were quite difficult for children to spin themselves and I wasn’t too impressed with these)Santa-Clara, UT Park

OTHER SENSORY!

  • small hiding spaces in the play structure
  • 2 small slides and 1 tall slide
  • splash pad across from the playground, open April-September
  • walking and biking trails around the entire park
  • open grass areas to run and play
  • softball fields
  • basketball courts
  • shaded areas over the playground and picnic tables
  • gorgeous southern Utah red rock scenery surrounding the area

Enjoy your sensory input! Our family loves exploring this area in Utah! Please share if you have more great playgrounds or play spaces!

If you are concerned with sensory processing for your child, I provide in-home OT services in Weber, Morgan, Davis counties in Utah.