The Infinite possibilities of a glider…by Karen Fridberg, Jigsaw OT

The linear glider swing can be used a multitude of ways and has many uses in helping clients which the short video explains. 

Being on the glider swing uses our vestibular system. This is found in our inner ear where we have canals that are filled with fluid. As we move our heads the fluid in the canals move. In these canals we have receptors that send messages to our brain about the direction we are moving in. This is how we know we are spinning, moving in a linear motion (up and down), or tilting our heads etc. Therefore this is how we keep our balance, maintain upright from gravity and plan for movements. Linear movements, up and down or side to side can be really regulating for our sensory system. Just like a baby being rocked to sleep.

The glider can be used to develop coordinated use of both sides of the body. For example, standing on the swing and swaying side to side and alternating movements of the arms into a flexed (bent position) to an extended (straight position). This can also be accomplished by sitting or in high kneeling on the swing with the ropes added. 

This uses balance and core stability which is fantastic for developing postural control. Even when a therapist is pushing the swing with a client on it holding on. Bilateral integration is introduced as the arms flex and extend passively. The client may not even realise they are using both sides of their body in an effective way. This can then be graded up to enable the client to this for themselves without the therapist pushing the swing. The client will then flex and bend their arms in order to move the swing in a linear motion hence using bilateral coordination skills.

Simultaneously this also develops ‘righting’ or equilibrium reactions. This is where balance can be achieved through compensatory movements of the body including the head, trunk and limbs. It’s the therapist’s job to provide the ‘just right’ challenge for the client to elicit the appropriate reactions. This can be done in various positions including, standing, kneeling, prone (on tummy) and quadruped (on all fours) whilst on the swing.

Crossing the midline is an important part of bilateral integration or using both sides of the body in a coordinated manner. It happens alongside shifting weight and rotation of the trunk. The therapist can elicit these kind of actions with target throwing as seen in the video.

Let me give you a case study example from a therapy session with the glider swing. We used the glider swing in imaginary play, for instance, we pretended the glider was a ‘boat’ and therapy balls were placed underneath which were different ‘sea creatures’. This tipped the glider into a tilted position creating a challenge for ‘righting’ reactions and maintaining equilibrium or balance. The child was able to pump the swing for linear movement. The bigger the therapy balls used the greater the resistance and greater the equilibrium response. 

When the child was no longer able to maintain balance and fell off onto the matt the therapy balls were used to roll over the child’s back and legs. This provided deep pressure, rest and calm from what may have been an over-alerting activity. The activity was extended to place bean bags or pretend ‘little fish’ behind the child on the swing. Therefore the child has to rotate their body and reach around to get the fish and throw them at the sea creatures to feed them. 

This provided the child with deep proprioceptive and vestibular input, which elicits a regulating response to the central nervous system. It also challenged the child’s balance which led to a fluid and automatic response of using postural control and ‘righting’ equilibrium reactions. It also enabled the child to use bilateral integration and coordination of their body to move the swing independently. Crossing the midline was enabled though reaching around and target throwing, further developing postural control through trunk rotation and also praxis and motor planning. These skills underpin so much of our everyday functioning and can be linked to our ability for handwriting and getting dressed.

Who would have thought playing a game on a glider swing could do so much and this is just one example!

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