Seating Adaptations for Sensory Processing Disorders

Benefits of Seating Adaptations

Seating adaptations are designed to promote safety, comfort and function. For example, harness straps enable someone to sit upright while eating and a seat belt prevents standing and falling when not supervised.  Some individuals benefit from using chairs adapted to a large platform that won't tip over when the person forcefully bounces or rocks in place.

Individuals with sensory processing disorders (SPD) often seek movement and deep pressure sensory stimulation that decreases agitation and promotes calm. The individual wearing the red swimming vest enjoys the tight, secure, squeezing sensation. The pink vibrating cushion positioned behind his back also provides the sensory input he seeks. Providing the needed sensory stimulation may also decrease maladaptive behaviors such as screaming or hand biting.

The same individual is shown enjoying the wheelchair rocker while a bag filled with sand provides deep pressure on his lap. There is a lot of trial and error to  see which adaptations are effective. This client demonstrates pleasure by becoming quiet and smiling.  I like to provide variety to avoid habituation to any one type of stimulation.

Special Sensory Seating

Seating that provides movement is called dynamic seating. It may promote attention to tasks or decrease agitation as well as

  • strengthen the trunk muscles
  • improve postural control and
  • promote body awareness and coordination

Ball chairs, rockers, gliders and inflated seat cushions are  popular options! Of course, keeping the person safe is priority. Consider stabilizing a ball by purchasing one with feet or placing it inside a box.

Ball and bungy chairs also provide deep pressure sensory stimulation during gentle  bouncing that many individuals find calming.

Bean bag chairs create the cocoon like deep pressure many individuals crave. Consider creating a sensory nest for your young child by attaching a sheet under a table!

Sweatshirt Adaptations

As "the RecyclingOT" I believe in finding low cost, readily available alternatives before considering  expensive equipment. That's why I tried out my swimming vest with clients who crave deep pressure before considering purchasing pressure or weighted vests.

Sweatshirts offer a fantastic, inexpensive option for children who crave deep pressure while at home or in public. They can simply wrap their arms around folded legs inside the sweatshirt!

Some individuals may prefer deep pressure using only use their arms inside the sweatshirt.

Sweatshirts also provide readily available dynamic seating when rolled up and placed on top of the seat!

Adding Weight to Sweatshirts

Many individuals with SPD love the sensation of weighted clothing and objects. Fill plastic bags with sand to stuff inside socks or pillow cases that they can hold or wrap around their shoulders.  Try adding weight to a  sweatshirt's sleeves so that the sleeves may be draped over the seated individual's shoulders and chest.

The individual shown below is sitting on a sweatshirt with a commercial Disco seat inserted inside. The sleeves are filled with bags of sand so that she can enjoy the weight on her lap while wiggling on her seat.


If you don't have a commercial cushion available try using a partially inflated ball.

The following video demonstrates how I use old pants to make a weighted pad that can be draped over shoulders or the lap.

Some individuals with SPD find sitting quite challenging. They would rather be on the move.... I suggest teaching them to associate sensory seating adaptations with simple hand activities performed at a table- perhaps ring stacks, shape sorters or spreading butter on toast. Start out with very short sessions,  gradually increase the time on task and end with a treat such as swatting  bubbles.  Explore using an auditory or visual timer so that the person knows that the activity has predictability - a beginning and an end.

I think its fun to explore sensory strategies to promote hand activities. Its great if you have a horse available as I did when performing hippotherapy. However, most of us don't.... so I hope that this article will give you a few ideas on how to adapt seating to meet the individual's sensory needs.

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