Walking on Air by Karen Fridberg, Jigsaw OT

The air walker swing works in a multitude of ways, equally working on a multitude of components. Just organising your body parts in order to get in the swing requires praxis and motor skills. There are several ways to get in as well, for instance, you can stand, sit or lie on your front or back, each providing a novel task.

Praxis is the ability to conceptualise, plan and organise movements in order to complete unfamiliar motor tasks. There are three aspects of praxis: Ideation; the ability to create a concept or mental image of a novel task so this would be how we can imagine how our body can move in order to get into the air walker swing Motor planning; the ability to conceive and plan a motor skill, so to problem solve, organise and plan our movements to get into the swing. Execution; the ability to carry out a skilled, non-habitual movement action in the correct sequence from beginning to end. This is to actually get into the swing, which will be a novel movement that requires a sequence of movements.

Difficulties processing sensory information can impact the execution of motor skills, particularly when faced with a novice task. Body sensations provide an important foundation for praxis and knowledge about the body forms are the basis for the ability to create ideas for purposeful movement. The stretchy material of the swing provides deep pressure on the body parts and gives feedback to our muscles and joints creating body awareness or proprioception. Proprioception describes the awareness of body position and how it is moving in space. It's the ability to sense the position of our limbs, fingers and other body parts, and when integrated with other sensory input it is an essential component for coordinated movements. The proprioceptive system is strengthened by physical movements and activities that provide ‘heavy muscle work’ and deep pressure. The resistance from the thick stretchy material of the airwalker swing provides just this. Just to get into the air walker there will be pushing, pulling and hanging which will all stimulate pressure receptors in the muscles, tendons and joints. This is turn provides feedback to the brain, sending a message of where the body is in space, known as our body awareness.

This kind of feedback is also very organising for the central nervous system and therefore has a modulating effect on the other systems thereby helping someone to self-regulate. Self-regulation is an organised state of behaviour that allows the maintenance of regulated states of arousal in the face of changing environmental demands and challenges. To aid self-regulation this swing provides a cocoon environment which can provide sensory calm through blocking out visual input, adding a dimmed down environment and a sense of being ‘held’ in the air which can be quite a magical experience or feeling of ‘walking on air’. A fluffy or weighted blanket can be added by the therapist to provide additional comfort and calm through this sensory additional proprioceptive and tactile input. Added to this we have the vestibular system which works with the proprioceptive, tactile, auditory, and visual processing systems to give us our perception of space, and our position and orientation within that space. The movement of a person’s body and head in a variety of planes integrates movement and gravity sensations, creating link between sensation and movement. Optimal functioning of the vestibular system is crucial for basic movement and motor development such as; holding the head and body up against gravity, orientating the body in space, coordinating eye, head and hand actions, supporting muscle tone, facilitating postural responses, such as equilibrium and balance, and integrating both sides of the body to allow for bilateral coordination.

It is thought that linear movement can also be regulating for the sensory system. Lying in prone in the swing (on a person’s front) helps with postural control by working on endurance to hold an extended pose whereby the head, neck and shoulder girdle muscles are working against gravity and need to be held up in order to propel and look forward. This position of prone extension is linked to the vestibular system. A therapist can illicit the ‘just-right’ challenge in terms of the amount of extension through attracting attention upwards through high fives, grabbing objects and throwing them to targets ahead. Regular therapy can help integrate the senses, promote and develop vestibular processing. It will also build endurance in this posture therefore strengthening these muscles and aiding postural control and stability. This in turn all impacts our activities of daily living, from being able to sit upright in a chair and accomplishing desktop activities to getting ourselves dressed.

Instead of feeling tired and/ or heavy we can aim to illicit a stronger more energetic feeling of being able to in this position fly through the air! This improvement over time can be magical to watch helping a person to be more upright, calm and in control of their movements in every-day life.

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