One special needs teacher at Raymond Ellis Elementary School in Illinois is going above and beyond for her students.
Amy Maplethorpe is a speech pathologist, and many of her students have difficulty processing information that comes from their senses. So she created special chairs to help them, with the help of some tennis balls and hot glue.
“Tennis balls on the seat and backrest provide an alternative texture to improve sensory regulation. Students with autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, sensory processing disorder, etc. may benefit from this seating option,” the school wrote about the chairs in a Facebook post.
The post instantly went viral — it has since been shared more than 91,000 times and has more than 13,000 comments on it. Parents and educators have commended Maplethorpe on her ingenuity in creating these chairs out of such simple materials.
“My autistic daughter, who is also sensory seeking, will purposely stand in bowls of legos or wooden blocks,” wrote one commenter. “We have also had to find alternatives to her wrapping cords, leashes, and strings around her neck and pulling, (fortunately wearing a cape provides the necessary sensation she is seeking). Sometimes there is no telling what will calm a sensory seeking child.”
Sensory Processing Issues In Children
Some children have trouble managing the information that their senses take in. You may have heard the terms “sensory processing disorder” or “sensory integration disorder,” which refer to the issues that these kids have. This type of condition affects the way children learn and function every day.
Basically, there are two types of sensory processing challenges. Some kids are hypersensitive to sensory input, which leads them to avoid it because it can be overwhelming to them.
Sensory seekers, on the other hand, experience hyposensitivity — they need more sensory input, not less. It is even possible to have a mix of the two types, which means that children can be over-sensitive to some sensations while being under-sensitive to others.
Hyposensitive kids may have a higher tolerance to pain, leading to their not understanding when they are playing too rough with others. They may also need a lot of movement, so they squirm or fidget. They tend to seek out sensory input, such as spicy food, and can be easily distracted and clumsy.
Sensory-seeking children will often engage in actions to help arouse their nervous systems. Sometimes, these actions can be dangerous — like hitting themselves, or picking at skin.
A Sensory Assist From Tennis Ball Chairs
These chairs are an excellent alternative to violent behaviors, and the results have been great so far.
According to Maplethorpe, one of her students with autism simply runs his hand over the tennis balls to get the sensory information he craves. Another simply enjoys sitting in the chair and listening to music.
The school principal, Beth Kiewicz, told The Huffington Post that she’s incredibly excited about the tennis ball chairs.
“I’m really excited that this has taken off and I’m really excited to see the benefits for students across the country, and educators and parents,” Kiewicz said.
You can find the instructions for making the chairs here.
In order to make the chairs, you will need a chair, a collection of half-cut tennis balls (you can sometimes find pre-cut ones via eBay or other retailers, if you’d like to take a shortcut), fabric, Mod Podge, a paintbrush or paint sponge and hot glue.
The process basically involves putting the fabric over the seat, then glueing the tennis balls to it. You’ll have to wait for the fabric to dry before putting down the tennis balls, of course.
The result is a chair with an alternate texture that can help affected kids regulate sensory information. We call that a DIY win!