Saturday, January 13, 2007

Full Spectrum's Best of the Best, Entry #1

Aside from being the first entry on our Full Spectrum 2007 "Best of the Best" list of autism friendly products and services, the odd looking device pictured above is known as the Gaiam Balance Ball Chair

A standard, 52 cm. balance ball is safely housed in a durable, plastic chair frame. Well-mounted casters make moving the ball from setting to setting simple, and allow the child another form of unobtrusive and acceptable wiggle room.

In sensory integration focused classrooms and occupational therapy settings, the balance ball chair is also called the "ball chair" or "sitting ball". Teachers who have first hand experience with students using the balance ball chair report that this wiggle friendly replacement for the standard, hard-backed school seating is certainly worth the "old college try" with fidget prone students.

Implementing the device to a student who has extreme difficulty sitting still long enough to tend to tasks could potentially delay or even circumvent more intrusive interventions such as prescription medications. I know it saved one of my children from a seemingly inevitable prescription for Ritalin.

To fully reap the benefit of the chair's benefits, all the student need do is sit on it. His body will naturally do the rest. Designed around the concept of "active sitting", the student who sits in this chair must spend a substantial amount of energy in simply staying centered and upright.

For the child with autism or another sensory integration dysfunction, the chair provides just enough sensory feedback to allow the student to better gain control of their motor facilities. The chair also addresses the tendency of the developmentally disabled to experience low tone in the musculature of the torso and spinal erectors. A student better in control of sensory challenges is simply more comfortable inside of his own skin. The struggling student becomes more able to tend to task.

For our son, who has a tendency to seek sensory feedback by "bouncing" in his chair, or slamming against the back of a desk seat, the Gaiam Balance Ball Chair has made the difference between his spending a measly two minutes successfully sitting and working, and being able to sit and tend to work tasks for thirty to forty minutes.

Is your child one of those students who simply cannot sit still? Does he/she bounce and slam against the back of his chair frequently? Does he fidget, and squirm constantly? If so, the ball chair might be an effective tool to assist the student to meet IEP goals related to increasing time spent "on task."

If you are interested in a trial with a "ball chair", review your child's IEP document and any related therapy goals. Ask your teacher to document how much time your child is able to stay on task without excessive fidgeting. Ask what the goal for staying on task for a typically developing student your child's age is. If you perceive a substantial deficit, and your child is reported as hyper and fidgety, check in with your child's pediatrician and occupational therapist. If they are in agreement that the ball chair represents a valid intervention for your squirmy student, ask your child's IEP team to consider implementing simple and cost effective interventions such as the ball chair. Many students who do not respond to the more mainstream "chair wedges" find success using the balance ball chair.

Prices for the Gaiam ball chair range from 79.00-139.00. The chair is sturdy and well built, and should provide years of full time use. It is easily cleaned with a germicidal spray and a damp cloth.

A student who is initially exposed to the balance ball chair will predictably respond to the built in "fun factor". For this reason, it is best to introduce active sitting devices during activities that don't require great amounts of concentration, then slowly move it into the general classroom experience.

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