Strategy

Alternative Seating

Dynamic or Supported Seating

Alternative seating can benefit students who have an excessive need for movement or other body sensation. The goal of an alternative seating option is to give students the opportunity to generate more sensation. Examples of generating more sensation include: shifting weight, bouncing gently, engaging postural muscles for balance, or snuggling into a support or cushion. This can help some students maintain focus while working on tabletop activities or stay engaged in a group lesson on the rug. Other forms of alternative seating may be helpful during sensory breaks from work, such as rocking chairs or beanbag chairs. While the strong drive some students demonstrate for body sensation seems excessive or “abnormal”, it is similar to the habits of so many people who jiggle a foot, chew on the end of a pencil, hum, make small rhythmic body movements or bounce. These are “normal” strategies our nervous systems use to regulate our arousal state, and help us stay focused. We are often unaware we are doing them, and they are only a problem if they interfere with functioning rather than help with it.

Implementation Tips

Clear and Consisted Rules
Be clear and consistent from the outset about rules for using alternative seating, including safety, not letting it become a distraction in and of itself to the student using it or those around him/her, and not doing anything that will damage it.
Student Choice
Allow the student to decide whether or not, and what type of alternative seating they want to use. Only intervene if he/she is not being safe with it or using it appropriately. As with other sensory integration strategies, the job of the adults is to provide options to the child and let the child (and his/her nervous system) make active choices.
Therapy Balls for Sensory Seekers
Research has shown that therapy balls are most effective for students who are sensory seekers, but less effective with students who have poor postural control.
Accepting Different Seating
If a student is shy about having an accommodation that is different from what classmates have, you can give alternative seating to a small group within the class including the student you are concerned about, and ask them to take turns using the different ones and “gather data” for research on whether or not any of the seats help them be calm and do their work.
School to Home
If a trial period is successful in the classroom, you can share this with parents/caregivers so they can try it for homework or meals at home.
Transitioning Back
If a student is using some form of alternative seating for a break, make a plan with him/her for getting back to the classroom activity.
Standing Rather than Sitting
Rather than sitting, some students may benefit from doing work while standing at raised table or easel. This provides a similar function of allowing for shifting of weight, stretching legs, etc.

Examples

Table and Desk Work
Partially inflated seat cushions, therapy balls of the appropriate diameter and T-stools (a wooden “T” the height of a chair with the top of it made to be comfortable as a seat) all give students the opportunity to shift weight or bounce gently with a greater sensory impact for the amount of movement they are making.
Sitting on the Rug
Stadium, canoe seats or back jacks (a floor chair that has a cushioned seat and an upright back) give students who are fidgety or roll around on the floor during lessons on the rug sometimes find it soothing to have something firm to lean against and are able to control their bodies better. Partially inflated seat cushions can be used on the floor the same as on chairs to allow for a little movement stimulation while staying seated.
Other times
Rocking chairs or beanbag chairs are often helpful during sensory breaks, but can also be used by students when listening to a read aloud or other lessons.

Related Strategies