Swinging, jumping, spinning and rocking are important to children not only for fun and exercise but also to help their bodies organize and to regulate their sensory systems.
Occupational Therapists use swing therapy for children with sensory processing disorders (A Sensory Processing Disorder is when the brain has difficulty to receive and respond to information that comes through the body’s senses). It can also be used by parents and other therapists, under the guidance of an Occupational Therapist. Swing therapy helps in sensory integration by giving the child exposure to new sensory experiences, which include body awareness, touch, sound, and sight. Sensory integration can also include input from the vestibular system and vestibular input is one of the core elements of sensory integration therapy. It helps us prepare our posture, maintain our balance, properly use our vision, calm ourselves and regulate our behaviour.
The amount of vestibular input varies depending on the child. Some children crave movement, while others may be motion sensitive. It is important that the sensory needs of the child is monitored to determined what is right for them. Some children may start to “stim” after a point and can become more aggressive or hyperactive offsetting any calming effect the swing may have had on the child. Controlled vestibular input under the direction of an occupational therapist is recommended for children with sensory processing issues.
Occupational Therapists use a variety of swings. However here, we are going to talk about the “Platform Swing” and the uses of this swing.
A platform swing is a square carpeted wooden platform hung from 4 ropes. This type of swing offers tilting movements and the occupational therapists use this swing when working on balance, strengthening the core, correcting postural adjustments, and body awareness. The child can sit, stand, kneel, or lay down on the platform swing. It can also be used for children who require vestibular input, E.g. children who are always on the move/go. It can either be used to CALM and settle a child or to ALERT a child so that they can focus on a task after performing the swing activity.
How can we use the platform swing to calm the child?
- Gradual start moving the platform swing from 20 – 30 degrees
- The movement should be slow rhythmic (without jerks or sudden stops)
- Duration: 5 to 10 mins
- Activities are incorporated into the swing after 6-7 sessions, once the child settles down with the movement.
How can we use the platform swing to alert the child?
Start the swing with slow rhythmic moves from 20 – 30 degrees approximately. Continue it for 5-10 min then give a sudden jerk ensuring the safety of the child and stop the swing. This induces after them and eye contact, body awareness and postural control/stability in the child.
Activities such as catching and throwing a ball in various directions can be incorporated into the swinging activity. The position of the child can be changed from sitting to standing or standing to prone lying to provide additional input to the vestibular system. These activities improve:
- Eye contact
- Attention and concentration
- Postural control and stability