Think back to when your child was a baby. How did you calm their crying? Maybe you walked around the room swinging them until they stopped crying. Or you swaddled them until they drifted off to sleep. Sitting in a rocking chair with your baby on your chest also helped. Your baby may be grown up, but swinging, rocking, and swaddling still have a calming effect.
In recent years, sensory swings have become a staple sensory integration tool for children with special needs. From increasing attention span, to improving coordination, the benefits of sensory swings are endless.
Let’s take a look at why children and parents alike love their sensory swing!
The vestibular system is the most important of the body’s senses. It lets us know if we’re moving, how fast we’re moving, and in which direction we’re headed. A developed vestibular system allows us to navigate our environment with confidence. This is because our brain knows exactly where the body is in relation to other objects.
However, children with a vestibular dysfunction don’t move as confidently. Their body doesn’t know its exact location in space. A great way to strengthen the vestibular system is with a sensory swing.
With each swinging motion, your child’s view of the room changes. They can feel the wind against their face and maybe even butterflies in their stomach. Their brain begins to tell them, “Okay, the view of the room is changing, I feel butterflies, so I must be swinging.”
Another benefit of sensory swings is an increase balance and coordination. When children have trouble processing vestibular input, their body doesn’t know how to move within their environment. When they go to jump, they can’t judge how far their jump needs to be. If they want to do a somersault, they don’t know that they will land on the ground. Even zipping up their jacket or writing can be difficult.
As your child sits in their sensory swing, they gain confidence that their body is safe— even when their feet are off the ground. The stronger these associations become, the more their balance improves.
When your child sits in the therapy swing, the fabric puts pressure on their sensory receptors. This proprioceptive input is called Deep Pressure Therapy. This input benefits your child by allowing them to feel their body’s movements. They can sense when their arm is outstretched or when their knee is bent. This sensory information gives your child a better understanding of their body’s location.
Another major benefit of a sensory swing is its ability to boost your child’s mood. Deep Pressure Therapy also has a positive effect on the hormone levels. Researchers found that Deep Pressure Therapy actually increases “happy” serotonin levels by 28% percent. They also found that the stress hormone, cortisol, decreased by 31%.
Children with SPD have a hard time filtering and organizing sensory input. This overflow of information puts stress on the nervous system, causing sensory meltdowns. Sensory input, like cuddling and swinging, calms the body’s “fight or flight” response. Sensory swings make your child feel safe, soothing their overly stimulated senses.
The swinging motion and Deep Pressure Therapy have an organizing effect on the brain. This gives them some much needed relief from an overwhelmed nervous system. So what is the benefit? Sensory swings make children with autism feel more “in balance.” Because of this, many parents find that swinging before or during homework increases concentration.
Swing therapy also benefits muscle tone as different swinging positions can be used to target different muscle groups. To strengthen their head and neck muscles, have your child swing on their stomach. If your child suffers from weak core muscles, try rolling up the fabric like a normal swing. The lack of back support will strengthen abdominal muscles and improve posture.
As a parent, there’s no better feeling than watching your child have fun. By either pushing them on the swing, or just being in the room during swing time, this is a perfect bonding opportunity to bond with your child.
If you feel that your child will benefit from a sensory swing, it is important that you talk with your child’s pediatrician and OT. Remember that your child’s needs may change from day to day, and they should never be forced to participate in sensory activities.
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