Pediatric Physical Therapists Say Swapping Seats Can Boost Grades
Could improving grades and classroom behavior be as simple as changing a child’s chair? That’s what a number of physical therapy researchers have concluded in recent years.
As pediatric physical therapists, we help children improve fine and gross motor skills using “playtime” designed to strengthen or stretch certain muscle groups, manage pain or work on balance. Many of our FOCUS patients have conditions like down syndrome, cerebral palsy or spinal injuries where this type of intervention is obvious. However, we’re increasingly seeing a number who have conditions (co-occurring or singular) like autism and attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with all these conditions are often very bright (sometimes exceptionally so) but may struggle with how to behave appropriately in a classroom setting, especially when required (like every other student) to sit still for long periods, denied opportunities to retreat from overstimulation or outlets to meet their sensory needs. These elements are just as important for them to achieve success in the classroom as any amount of studying.
Pediatric physical therapists have studied this particular issue, and have discovered that for many children with ADHD, dynamic seating can offer important benefits that can help improve classroom behavior and academic outcomes.
What is “Dynamic Seating?”
It’s possible you may have never heard this term before. Pediatric physical therapists understand it to mean seats or wheelchairs that allow movement within it. Something as simple as the way one is sitting can have a huge outcome on the performance being asked of them. We know this is true for those who use wheelchairs, but it’s true for others too – and it’s more complex than you might think.
The human body was designed to move. When we do so, our brains receive sensory input that furthers development through neuroplasticity growth. That’s why whenever possible, sitting should really be more of an active and dynamic experience (or all of us, but especially kids).
Unfortunately, not only do most chairs used in elementary schools not allow for such movement, kids are often confined for hours a day in a rigid, upright position. Recess times are shorter as educational demands have increased, and when children leave school, they rarely play outside for any significant period of time (hectic schedules, parental fears, liability concerns etc).
This lack of movement is a problem for all kids, but our pediatric physical therapists see it increasingly problematic among children with ADHD and other issues.
How Changing Chairs Can Help Your Child in Class
There has been a fair amount of research on this, one of the first conducted in 2006 and published in the journal Pediatric Physical Therapy. Researchers analyzed nearly 50 children in two classrooms, targeting five in particular known to have an ADHD diagnosis.
All children were assigned seats that included a chair, a ball or a cushion (or their choice of one of the latter two). The researchers noted that among those students with ADHD, there were “immediate improvements in in-seat behavior when seated in one or both forms of dynamic seating. They began surpassing class mean scores on one or more assignments. Their word production while using the seats improved. There were fewer classroom outbursts/ disruptions.
Those students with ADHD preferred to use the balls, and self-reported that when they did so, they felt their own attention, productivity and comfort was better when they used them. (Subsequent pediatric physical therapy studies on dynamic seating have reached similar conclusions.)
What’s more, all the other students indicated they too preferred the dynamic seating, and all students requested the new seating arrangements be continued.
If this is something that appears to be a problem with your child, it may be worth bringing up to the school, either privately with the teacher or specifically in an upcoming IEP meeting.
FOCUS offers pediatric physical therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
ALTERNATIVE SEATING DEVICES FOR CHILDREN WITH ADHD: EFFECTS ON CLASSROOM BEHAVIOR, Spring 2006, Pediatric Physical Therapy
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Pediatric Physical Therapy Can Help With Chronic Constipation, Aug. 21, 2018, Pediatric Physical Therapists Blog