Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of disorders characterized by significant impairment in social interactions, communication difficulties and repetitive, compulsive behavior. Approximately 1 in 150 children in the United States are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. It is common for a child with an ASD to have an additional diagnosis of sensory integration dysfunction. This means that the child’s brain doesn’t process the sensory information it receives in a coherent, organized way. Therapy for autistic children with sensory processing difficulties often involves weight-bearing exercises and deep sensory input. For these kids, beanbag chairs are a low-cost therapeutic tool.
Bean Chairs and Hypotonia
As a seating option, bean chairs help autistic children who have poor muscle tone, or hypotonia, which is a common problem with kids on the autism spectrum. Hypotonia isn’t a medical disorder; rather, it’s the name of the symptom resulting from any combination of neurological and muscle disorders that cause overall muscle weakness. Researchers are still looking into why kids on the autism spectrum often have hypotonia, but it is more challenging to address in children than adults by virtue of the fact that many weight-bearing exercises involve the use of adult-sized, overly heavy equipment.
Bean bag chairs have just enough weight to act as a weight-bearing exercise tool for kids on the spectrum. A child may use it for weight-lifting with his arms or legs. Additionally, because of the palpable inner components, a bean bag chair provides sensory feedback during weight-training exercises. Their flexible shape allows kids and therapists to shape and mold the chairs for whatever purpose they need.
Bean bag chairs help hypotonia in kids with autism in other ways. Many kids on the autism spectrum find it uncomfortable to sit in traditional chairs. The use of bean bag chairs in the home may provide kids on the autism spectrum with comfortable alternatives, since the chair molds itself to the child’s body while providing the sensory feedback of its filler material. In an autism classroom, a teacher may use bean bag chairs for the students at least part of the day. Many kids on the spectrum find the sensory feedback of sitting in a bean bag chair very comforting. Best of all, they’re easy to transport and lightweight enough so that even very young children can move them from room to room.
Two bean bag chairs used together can be a helpful therapeutic tool for kids on the spectrum. Many kids with autism find it comforting and calming to have their torsos surrounded by gentle sensory pressure. Some autistic kids like to sit on one bean bag chair while having a second bean bag chair placed across the torso. This gentle weight and the continuous sensory feedback can be very calming and relaxing for a child with autism, helping him to organize his thoughts and center his emotions. Bean bag chairs are more than just a comfortable option for children’s furniture – for kids with autism, they can be an important therapeutic tool, too.