Sunday, August 4, 2013

A House of Swings and Sensory Processing Disorder

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 :) 


  1. I think we need one of these swing set ups's for Steffie! She freaks out if you tip her and when you lift her up out of her crib etc. Wondering if she may have SPD . swinging in her baby swing dies really help when she melts downs but she won't fit in it much longer

    1. The official screening tools for SPD are used at about age official diagnosis isn't important to us, but my girls all meet the criteria....with that said, I'd definitely start doing some vestibular work with her now! Do you have a park where you can sit on the swing and hold her to start?

  2. I can't believe how big Mila has gotten! Love the pictures of Zoya swinging with the littles -- what a wonderful big sister. :)

    1. I know! When I look at the two pictures of her side by side, wow! I hardly remember her that small!

  3. Hi Sarah! Thanks for this great post! I have a few questions, if you don't mind.
    1- Do you stand there and push them all that time they are swinging?
    2- The link to the video about sensory processing seems to be incorrect. It goes to another blog post. I'd love to watch it!
    3- My Hazel (Age 4, Ds, adopted 7 months ago from Russia)loves to lie on her tummy on the swing, but FREAKS when she has to sit in one, even a chair one. How did you get Zoya to go from hating it to loving it? I know H. needs something like this because she still rocks back and forth a lot.
    Thanks again for taking the time to blog about how you teach your girls and do therapy with them. Your posts have been really helpful to me with my girls!

    1. Hi Heather! Thanks for letting me know about the link...OOPS! It's all fixed now!

      When they are in the doorway swing I am usually cooking or doing dishes right there so I can give them a push every minute or so. I often set the timer on the oven for 15 or 20 minutes as well. If I'm not working in the kitchen, I'm usually sitting at the little table right next to the swing with one or two of the other girls working on their therapy goals, feeding them, or reading books with them so I can just work and push at the same time. Sometimes I'll work with Mila in her walker while Zoya is in the swing and Sofia is playing....I use it as a "station" sort-of! I multi task for sure! Someone is almost always in that swing, though! For the swing in Mila's room, I carve out times of the day to pretty much only be doing that as it requires a bit more parent supervision! If the little ones are swinging I bring Zoya in with me and have her read books to me or do a matching activity or some other hands on activity. She also likes to help me push that swing which is really good sensory input for her as well!

      You might want to try other things that move with her, like an office chair and sit in it with her and move very slowly, or a scooter board, etc. Find ways that you can be with her for that back and forth movement to make her comfortable at first! When we started with Zoya we would put her in the swing and take her right out and reward her. We SLOWLY worked up to a minute of swinging, then out, and just kept increasing as she tolerated it! We also did Therapeutic Listening with her (search my blog for info on that) and I think that helped her in this area a bit as well! If she's rocking back and forth a lot you want to try and match that movement for she on hands and knees? That may explain why she likes to swing on her belly! One of our therapists told me to watch the stims and which way the child is moving and try to replicate that with the vestibular input. Mila is often turning her head (like touching one ear to one shoulder and then the other) so it's no surprise she loves the spinning! She also LOVES to swing on her belly and one of her "stims" is rocking on all fours. Zoya JUST RECENTLY started tolerating swinging on her belly. For that I layed under the swing and just pushed her really gently to help her get used to it. If you had any way to access the platform swing that might be a good place to start!

      Hope that helps! Good luck!

    2. Fun post! As an O.T., it makes me smile to see such wonderful therapy being done at home:) You all are awesome parents and those are some cutie swinging girls!

    3. Hi Sarah, Thanks so much sharing the swing ideas, I am sure other parents reading your entry will find it useful. Unfortunately it will not reach some parents who should use it with their children. You and Shawn just amaze me with what you come up with. All the work you do with the girls now will certainly benefit them for years to come. All I can say is good thing my parents didn't put me in a swing, or maybe they should have, as I get dizzy and feel ill when subject to lots of motion, i.e. curvy roads, rough or partially rough seas. Carol

  4. Great post Sarah. My Harry has SPD as well and he didn't like swinging for the longest time as well. He did like to twirl and still does. Great information. I will send people to your blog if you don't mind.


    1. Sure thing! I love the book, "The Out of Sync Child" too, has lots of good sensory ideas!

  5. I just have to tell you how much I enjoy reading your blog. I was a pediatric physical therapist for 12 years before coming home to be a SAHM and then homeschool my kids. I love reading about the lengths you go to help your girls with whatever they need. My daughter has just graduated from high school and she is going to major in special education. She also loves reading your blog and is learning so much. She has a huge heart for orphans and for kids with Down Syndrome and has no idea how God will use that in her future, but she is willing to follow His leading.

    1. Awesome! I'm so glad it's helpful!!!! Love seeing God planting seeds with her will be so exciting for you to watch His gifts develop in your daughter!

  6. Hi -- I loved this post -- thank you for sharing your family with us! Would you mind sharing which company makes the therapy swings you mentioned (the red swing and the platform swing)? Thank you!

    1. Hi! It's the "playaway" bar and swings. The cheapest I have been able to find it is on

      Hope that helps!

  7. I found it interesting that right after reading your post, I had a private gymnastics lesson with a young lady (5) with autism and she had a rough day at school. For 15 minutes all she wanted to do was sit on the rope and swing. She loves going in circles also and I thought she was about to fall asleep on it. After that 15 minutes she was a much happier lady ready to do gymnastics. Since I had just read this I was able to share it with her mom. Thanks so much for all your information you put out. It really does help people in all areas! :-)

    1. Awesome! I loved reading this!!!! I hope it will be helpful to her and other clients of yours in the future!!! So glad you were able to share with her mom too!

  8. Posts like this just make me love/admire you even more. Thanks for spreading your knowledge my dear!