You probably know the five senses — sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. Another sense is particularly important to how the brain experiences movement. This sense is called the vestibular sense (balance) and provides information to a person about where the body is in space and the direction and speed of movement.
In addition to the five well-known senses, there is another important sense called the vestibular sense.
The vestibular sense (balance) provides information about where the body is in space and the direction and speed of movement.
Sensory swings are used as part of sensory integration therapy to improve vestibular sense and provide other benefits.
Although the research is limited, therapists report significant improvement in behavior, communication, interaction with others, processing, and motor skills, and better adaptation to the environment when using sensory integration therapy.
In children, if the vestibular sense is well developed, they have good balance and coordination. Read on to learn how sensory swings could be beneficial to your child.
What is sensory integration therapy?
Sensory integration therapy is a form of treatment developed in the mid-1970s by Dr. Jean Ayres. The goal of this therapy was to help children with sensory processing problems deal with their difficulties in processing sensory input.
According to Dr. Ayres, impaired sensory integration may be the underlying cause of behavior problems in children with autism. There is also scientific evidence that children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) are more likely to have sensory processing problems and difficulty with balance, hand-eye coordination, and motor skills. They also have impaired sensitivity to environmental stimuli like loud noise or fluorescent lights. In response to these stimuli, the child may feel intense discomfort, try to rock back and forth, bang their head, or eat non-edible objects.
Sensory integration therapy is used by as many as 95% of occupational therapists, and there are many reports that the children who use this therapy experience significant improvement in behavior, communication, interaction with others, processing, and motor skills, and better adaptation to the environment.
Therapy sessions involve sensory swings, trampolines, slides, and other modalities like deep pressure, weighted vests, and brushing. Research studies have been limited and more studies are needed to understand better and fully confirm the benefits of this therapy.
In the meantime, parents can talk to an occupational therapist to see which therapies could benefit their children and how to choose the best sensory swings. All children, with or without sensory processing problems, need exercise and could use swings along with other play activities.
Benefits of sensory swings
Sensory swings may help improve the vestibular sense. Depending on the type of swing and how it is used, a swing may help build core and upper extremity strength, as well as motor planning. As the vestibular system is closely linked with vision, a swing may also challenge and help improve visual processing and tracking. Some swings help promote a sense of calm and relaxation, while others stimulate the child. It is important to choose the swing based on the child’s needs.
Sensory swings are enjoyable for the child. Sensory swings can be used indoors and can be enjoyed year-round. When the weather is nice, the child can also enjoy outdoor activities that promote vestibular input — running, biking, jumping, or using playground swings. Sensory swings allow rotational movements as well as back-and-forth and side-to-side movement. Some swings have an additional option to bounce up and down as the child swings.
Types of sensory swings
Here are some of the most commonly used sensory swings by occupational therapists:
- Platform swing. The most popular swing in therapy settings. It helps the child stay calm and alert while strengthening the body and core and improving balance and motor planning.
- Bolster swing. Designed to challenge balance, vestibular sense, and motor skills, while strengthening the neck and core.
- Climbing ladder swing. Challenges motor skills, balance, strength, and body awareness.
- Cocoon swing. Gives a child a quiet place to escape or a place to jump and play. May help with motor planning, balance, core strength, and sensory integration.
- Hanging pod swing. Challenges the vestibular sense and assists with balance. Also gives a child a sense of calm and relaxation.
- Trapeze swing. Improves upper body strength, endurance, and motor planning.
Other types of swings available online include tire swings, web tower swings, and raindrop swings.
Many occupational therapists use sensory swings and other tools to help improve sensory processing, body strength, eye-hand coordination, and balance and support a calm, relaxed mood. Swings are also fun for children and can be part of the child's play activities. Parents should consult with an occupational therapist before buying a sensory swing, as the therapist will recommend the best option based on the child’s needs and preferences.