Autism is a neurological disorder most knowingly characterized by impaired social communicative abilities and repetitive behaviors. One of the lesser known symptoms of autism is problems with sensory integration, and in particular vestibular sensory integration. Sensory integration is the process of taking in all of the various changing environmental stimuli, such as taste, sight, smell, hearing, touch, and balance, and making them vibe with our knowledge of the world. Vestibular motions, or those associated with balance, include running, jumping, swinging, doing cartwheels, crawling, etc. Due to the overwhelming stimuli presented by the world around them, many autistic children will have underdeveloped vestibular senses, as they will choose to retreat rather than face the scary, ever-changing world of overwhelming vestibular movement.
One way to help autistic children manage their vestibular deficiencies associated with the issues with sensory integration are autism swings. Autism swings are special swings designed to help those with vestibular or proprioceptive dysfunction. Proprioception is supposed to be the unconscious perception of one’s own spatial orientation and movement. Due to issues with sensory integration, autistic children can feel overwhelmed by changing stimuli and may struggle with bodily self-awareness and balance. Autism swings are now acknowledged by doctors and parents as an essential part of the occupational therapy used to help with sensory integration.
Autism swings can help in myriad ways. The smooth rocking motion of the swings can help relax autistic children, allowing them to unwind and decompress from the difficult world around them. They can also provide much needed deep touch pressure stimulation, which has been shown to have calming effects on autistic children. Finally, they can help autistic children develop motor, vestibular, and proprioceptive skills that they would struggle to develop normally. The fun and safe environment of the swing, as opposed to the scary stimuli associated with the outside world, gives autistic children the unique opportunity to understand the relationship between their own bodies and movement, all while having fun playing on a swing.
Different autism swings serve unique purposes to help individual symptoms associated with autism. There is a wide range of swings designed for various goals and purposes. One of the most popular swings is the hanging Crow’s Nest Hammock Swing. This swing, which can be hung indoors or outdoors, provides a calming escape for children from overstimulation. In its comfortable folds, a child can find the peace and quiet needed to relax and unwind; an essential for any autistic child who struggles with sensory integration.
Other available swings for autism patients include more cocoon-style, “cuddle” swings designed to provide the deep touch pressure stimulation so desired by many autistic children, as well as providing helpful vestibular stimulation. Studies have shown that deep touch pressure stimulation can be very calming for autistic children, who will often seek similar high pressure tactile environments such as mummy sleeping bags or being rolled up in gym mats or bandages to calm and relax their bodies and minds. Deep touch pressure cuddle swings have also been shown to reduce tactile defensiveness in children who do not like being touched, which can help avoid potentially dangerous violent reactions from unknowing people’s innocent touches. An additional potential benefit of deep pressure-style swings include the reduction of self-injurious behavior in autistic children; a constant worry of any parent.
Another type of swing that can be helpful for those with autism is the Therapy Net Swing. This simple swing provides all-around vestibular input, helps to improve head and neck extension, improves body awareness and proprioceptive input, and can help with overall motor control. The design allows one to experience linear movement in a fun, safe environment, helping to build movement skills that would otherwise be difficult for an autistic child to develop.