It's no secret when you have kids your house turns into a playland of sorts, but I think we've taken it over the top! HAHA. It all started with our doorway swing! I've posted at least a dozen pictures of the girls in the doorway swing. The doorway swing was a Christmas gift from Uncle Bub and one of the BEST gifts we've ever gotten for the girls! That swing gets, on average, 1-2 hours of swinging per day with all 3 girls! We use the swing as part of a "sensory diet" for all 3 of our girls. Zoya, Mila, and Sofia all have sensory processing difficulties, but each of their needs are so different! We've been blessed with an absolutely amazing occupational therapist who knows a whole lot about sensory processing disorder and how to help children reset their sensory systems. This has been such a blessing and I've learned so much from her!
Sensory Processing Disorder is when the brain doesn't organize incoming sensory signals appropriately. Individuals with SPD have a hard time processing information received through their sensory channels and it can cause a whole host of problems. If you're looking for more information on sensory processing disorder, this video is MY FAVORITE! It explains the 7 sensory systems: sound, taste, smell, vision, touch, proprioceptive, and vestibular and how they can be either under responsive or over responsive. This video will help you to see how each of our girls can have completely different sensory profiles and needs. AND to make it even more challenging for me, their needs often change as we tweak their sensory diets. I know, it's like I'm speaking greek...go watch the video!
Sensory Processing Disorder is common in post-institutionalized children and children who've spent a lot of time neglected and laying in a room without much stimuli. On top of that, it's also common in children with Down Syndrome, so our girls have the double whammy! We assumed they'd each have sensory processing issues....they come as no surprise. The good news is, there's A LOT we can do to help "reset" those systems and teach their brains to process the sensory stimuli appropriately, along with seeking out appropriate sensory experiences to meet their sensory needs. We include a ton of daily activities as part of their sensory diets, but swinging is our all time favorite!
The swing really works with the vestibular system. Here is a little information on the vestibular system and why swinging is so beneficial:
"Swinging, jumping, spinning and rocking are important to children not only for fun and exercise but also to help their bodies organize and to regulate their sensory systems. Vestibular input is one of the core elements of sensory integration therapy. Our bodies' vestibular system is the sensory system that provides the primary input about movement, balance, spatial awareness and positioning. It helps us prepare our posture, maintain our balance, properly use our vision, calm ourselves and regulate our behavior.
The amount of vestibular input varies depending on the child. Some children crave movement, while others may be motion sensitive. It is important that the sensory needs of the child being monitored to determined what is right for them. Some children may start to “stim” after a point and can become more aggressive or hyperactive offsetting any calming effect the swing may have had on the child. Controlled vestibular input under the direction of an occupational or physical therapist is recommended for children with sensory processing issues."
When Zoya came home, we literally could not even tip her backward while holding her without her freaking out! Her vestibular system was SO out of whack! Initially she HATED swinging but we worked up little by little and she now loves it and requests it multiple times per day! During the school year, she swings every day before school for 15-25 minutes and it really seems to help organize her and calm her for her day! Mila, on the other hand, was and still is, a HUGE sensory seeker! She can't get enough vestibular input so sometimes she will rock on her hands and knees. When we see her doing that we scoop her up and put her in a swing! And while Sofia's greatest area of need is proprioceptive and not vestibular, rhythmic swinging really helps to calm her as well!
I have read that 15 minutes of swinging lasts up to 8 hours. The calming effects of swinging on the vestibular system last the longest in the brain as far as chemical release is concerned! Vestibular input is known to decrease the stress chemicals in the brain as well! So any vestibular activities you do with your child will help them regulate their sensory systems much longer than other sensory activities (proprioceptive, auditory, etc.) So usually 2 fifteen minute swinging sessions per day are suggested. We do AT least that with all 3 girls and then more when they ask or seem to need it. With Mila, we've found that swinging right before bed helps her to have a more restful sleep! We also use the Graco swing with Sofia directly before bed!
We have 2 different "swinging points" at our house. One is the doorway frame which has two points of connection at the top (like a typical swingset). After seeing Mila use the platform swing at outpatient therapy, I realized that having a single connection point allowed a longer, more rhythmic pattern of swinging.
Here is our doorway frame. We have 3 different swings that attach to this one! It is the "playaway bar." The red swing and the platform swing are from the same company and the pink one is a little tykes swing that the girls got as a gift from Grandma and Grandpa B. Remember where we live we have 9 months of winter so having indoor swings makes a lot of sense! This one is right off the kitchen so I can do dishes or cook while they swing and play! (Mila never needed to be buckled in in the red swing, but Sofia sure does!)
Check out tiny Mila Bean! Bub also bought us a swing insert (currently can't find it online to link it) that we used for Mila since she was so tiny! It is a padded piece that goes around the baby when they are really small so they can use bucket swings! It worked beautifully for her until she was big enough to swing without it!
(she's laughing....promise! and look how little she was!)
Here is the platform swing on the same frame, also a gift from Uncle Bub! This one is awesome for prone swinging and working on fine motor activities! I used an ace bandage and a velcro strap to secure Mila to it, but I never walk away when they're in this one!
And we've used this model swing for both Zoya and Sofia. It is the Graco Lovin' Hug Swing. We borrowed one from a friend for Zoya and another friend passed this one along to us since they were done with it! Lucked out! It is great for rhythmic slow swinging. It has a 30 pound weight limit so it's the highest weight limit swing they make! This is Sofia's favorite swing and since it's battery operated the rhythm of it is exactly what she needs!
Recently I went on a "crazy swing kick" and with the help of my wonderful husband, we now have 2 new swings in the house! Shawn made a square platform swing with removable intertube and I made a cuddle swing out of lycra material. Each of these swings in special needs catalogs are mega bucks! So much more affordable to make your own! I was inspired by a tire/platform swing that Mila LOVED at outpatient physical therapy, so we made it happen! 2 girls can fit in the tire swing at one time and they love swinging together! Both of these swings attach to the same center point, which is a swivel hook in the middle of Mila's bedroom!
When Zoya swings alone, this is her favorite way!
Mila's favorite is to spin around REALLY fast, just watching makes me sick!
(Be careful about spinning with kids who tend to get hyped up easily-like Sofia and Zoya-as spinning may make them even more hyped up! You may want to stick to linear swinging or wide circles with those types of kiddos, trust me :) With Zoya and Sofia we do much shorter spinning spurts than we do with Mila)
(Zoya is tickling Mila here!)
And the cuddle swing.....
Mila fell asleep after 5 minutes in this swing! Sofia almost did as well!
For the cuddle swing, I bought 6 yards of lycra material (on sale since summer is coming to an end!). I folded it in half length wise and tied the short ends onto metal rings and used zip ties under the knots for an added layer of security. Shawn helped figure out the best way to tie the knots....he IS an Eagle Scout you know ;) I haven't a clue how to sew, but it'd be easier to get the girls in and out if I had sewn the long sides together! It works just as well as far as the swinging is concerned, though, without sewing it! Shawn got a clip hook to attach it to the chain which hung on the carabiner clip which was clipped to the swivel hook which was drilled into a beam in the ceiling (thanks Shawn!). Did you get all that? :)
If your kids are still very little, you can do the same thing holding the lycra, or holding a blanket. You'll need two adults-one to hold each end, and slowly swing and bounce your child. We did this for a while, but with Mila weighing in at 30 pounds and Sofia not so far behind, it was getting hard! And then of course Zoya wanted her turn as well ;) But it's an alternative if you don't feel like putting up this type of swing in your house!
Here is the swivel hook drilled into the ceiling beam. We use the carabiner clip for the tire swing as well and just unhook the metal hook you see here to change from the cuddle swing to the platform/tire swing!
Here is a video of Zoya bouncing in the cuddle swing. The proprioceptive input paired with the vestibular input helps Zoya to regroup! After using this swing she's better able to focus so my goal is to use it with her right before we do table/learning activities!
And that concludes (probably part 1) of my Sensory Processing and Swinging Post :)