Will you just sit still?! : Why for some, sitting still is not possible

As an Occupational Therapist working with all age groups, I've often spent a lot of time in the classroom and home environments and frequently hear “Sit still”, “Stop wiggling”, “stay focused”, “Wake up”, but for some learners sitting still and remaining upright and focused are a real challenge. You see 5-16.5% of the population experience sensory processing difficulties (Ahn et al, 2004) and within the autistic population, this figure rises to 88-90%. This is mainly due to inefficiencies in vestibular processing.

The vestibular system is a sensory system and has two sensory organs located within the inner ears. Every time the head moves it stimulates the nerve receptors in the inner ear sending a message to the brain about one’s location in space and informs ongoing postural adjustments to support postural control and arousal. If a learner has difficulties either in interpreting or processing these messages, you see a difference in behaviour. Some people will need to move more to gain additional sensory information about their position in space, hence the constant wiggling that many teachers and parents find so distracting and some need to move to keep themselves alert and awake. However, in a classroom environment, this constant wiggling and moving can be disruptive for other learners and or the teacher. Sometimes the learner can develop subtle methods of achieving this input such as going to the toilet frequently or bending down to their bag on the floor to get equipment, and this is enough, but for others, they need more ongoing and constant movement.

Currently there exist many forms of sensory equipment that can provide movement whilst remaining seated such as a wobble cushion or a rocking chair, for younger learners who may not be concerned about how the equipment looks, these things offer a great solution, however for older learners, they often dislike feeling different and having to carry around bulky kit which makes them stand out. As an advanced practitioner in Sensory Integration, I am always looking for clever and innovative pieces of equipment that offer a subtler and more age-appropriate solution for these learners. So, you can imagine my delight when the Zuma office chair and floor rockers were delivered to my home to trial. I was first drawn to the office chair which has a contemporary design and is sleek and unfussy. I imagine it would not look out of place in most office environments. I decided to try it on my office day where I often sit at my desk for over 8 hours writing reports and respond to emails. Immediately I noticed how it glides easily on the floor and is comfortable to sit on. On the underside are several hydraulics which provides almost orbital movement to the seat base, this allows the user to rock, roll and rotate their pelvis easily. I noted how I was able to remain seated for longer and not feel the need to get up and stretch so frequently. This piece of equipment would be a great solution for teenagers and also adults who have a need to access movement whilst seated.

The floor rocker is of similar design and has a non-slip base, a safety feature I’m sure my educational colleagues would appreciate. This was trialled by my lively three-year-old who promptly named it as his “space rocket”. The seat is low enough to remain in the chair safely and I would imagine would be wonderful in a nursery, preschool or primary school to provide movement during focused learning. It would also be helpful for use within the home whilst watching TV or engaging in learning with a parent or carer. These two pieces of equipment are a welcome and innovative addition to my available sensory solutions and I shall be sure to be recommending them in the near future! Ahn, RR; Miller, LJ; Milberger,s; Mcintosh, DN. (2004). Prevalence of parents perceptions of sensory processing disorders among kindergarten children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 58 (3); 287-93.

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