Why are swings used in therapy?

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Question:
Why are swings used in therapy?

When a person enters therapy it’s usually because something needs to change. Something is not occurring in response to the stimulation of everyday life and environments are as it should be; there’s a desired change that is in need of specialized help. A therapist helps create and hold the space for change, and orchestrates the specialized intervention that is needed to stimulate the desired change over a course of time.

Since movement is an essential part of life, it’s an essential consideration of therapy in one way or another. While the use of suspension equipment/swings in pediatric therapy was initially unique to sensory integration therapy, we now know enough about sensory integration and the value of movement to recognize that swings are useful in most types of pediatric therapy. Intentionally provided movement experiences can contribute to sensory, physical, emotional, cognitive, language and social changes that lead to improved function.

Swings are a primary way of providing intentional movement, or movement that is being provided with an express purpose. We sense our bodies moving whether we’re being moved passively, we’re moving ourselves, we’re moving movable objects, or we’re actually moving to move objects that move us. And we’re able to sense stillness. Sensation of movement or lack thereof, can come to our conscious awareness or can be processed subconsciously. The versatility of swings, and of certain swings in particular, is priceless when it comes to treatment planning, as most swings can be used in many ways in order to offer the desired type of movement. In fact, when each of the Pediatric Therapeutics OTs were asked about their “Big Room Favorite” (favorite piece of equipment in our sensory gym), each named a swing and mentioned versatility as a reason for their choice. Missy and Carrie both mentioned the many positions possible when swinging on the glider swing, even when weakness or lack of confidence may be an issue. Liz mentioned the endless possibilities for using the hammock (“superman”) swing for varied activities, from calming to intensively stimulating, working on weightbearing, strengthening, visual motor skills, directionality, and fine motor skills, while engaged in linear or rotational movement. Anne mentioned various aspects of postural control that can be addressed with the long cylindrical shape of the bolster or “horse” swing.

Our movement and position in space, and in relation to the pull of gravity is received by a part of the ear called the vestibular system, but the vestibular system is not the only system that gives us information about where we are, how we’re positioned and how/where we’re moving. Information from our muscles, joints, eyes, hearing part of the ears, skin, and nose also contribute to our awareness of our bodies in space. When we’re using swings we are able to easily and creatively incorporate other types of sensory input to increase awareness and discrimination related. The movement and positional information offered by swings can support our abilities to regulate our physical and emotional selves and to do what we need/want to do.

10 reasons we use swings:
1. Swings provide an opportunity for shared steady beat/rhythm that helps therapist and child, or one child and others, sync up with one another.
2. Swings are a way of enhancing positional and movement stimulation.
3. Swings can be easily adapted to meet sensory processing patterns and needs.
4. Swing movement can help activate muscles and muscle groups.
5. The rhythms of swing movement can be used to affect internal rhythms.
6. Swings can be used to work on timing.
7. Swings can be used to support the working relationships of midline, and the right and left sides of the body
8. Swing choice/use can be graded for working on balance.
9. Swings lend themselves to imaginative play and creative processes.
10.Movement stimulates vocalizing/speech and language.

Swinging can be fun! Ask to try out a swing in our Big Room…you’ll see why we use them all the time!

–Sheila Allen, MA, OT

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