Most teachers and parents would agree that sitting still can be a significant challenge for children with autism. A typical classroom scenario in which the students sit attentively at their desks while the teacher explains the day’s lessons has generally been thought to be unrealistic for an autism classroom, but this may be changing soon.
Safco furniture company donated 18 Runtz chairs to the Spectrum Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah. Spectrum Academy is a school for children with autism, and teachers report that the chairs have made an incredible difference.
Talking with the local Fox 13 News Station, Jacqueline Whitaker, a four-year teacher at Spectrum Academy, says,
“They have a hard time sitting in their seat, staying on task, because of their vestibular needs. Their need for balance and knowing where they are in space.
“It’s literally life changing. It’s like someone who can’t walk and getting a wheelchair and being able to move. It’s on that level. It’s amazing.”
Students using the Runtz chairs are able to sit and focus for longer periods of time. When their sensory needs are fulfilled, they are less distracted by the confusing signals their bodies can send, and more available for academic learning. When this occurs for a larger group of students at the same time, there are fewer distractions from other students needing to wiggle or take breaks, which allows teachers to use their instructional time productively.
Crystal Coffman, occupational therapist at Spectrum Academy, says,
“It will help the students learn more. They won’t have to get up an wiggle as much. You’ll see more attention to task and you won’t see them falling out of their chairs.”
The staff at Spectrum Academy are keeping track of student progress with the new chairs, and reporting back to Safco. At $236 apiece, the chairs are expensive, and the school hopes a more affordable model can be developed. If these chairs are shown to make a significant difference in student’s performances, they could be a game-changer for schools teaching children with autism across the country. In the meantime, they are grateful to have found such a useful product.
The school learned about the chairs from Brian Culley, vice-president of Office Products Dealer and father of a child with autism. He purchased one of these chairs for his son, and encouraged the school to give them a try. He says,
“These chairs really stabilize them and get them more comfortable in their own skin and ready to learn,”
The Runtz chairs are manufactured by Safco furniture, and were originally intended to be a sleek, modern design for offices, but they are now being marketed for children as posture and exercise chairs as can be seen in the video below. They look quite different from regular chairs, more like a stool with a puffy mushroom cap. Each chair comes with a pump, so the level of inflation can be adjusted for different children. It comes in fun colors, Licorice, Bubble Gum and Sour Apple. They are also available at Amazon, Sears, and other office supply retailers.
An Australian wrote on Safco’s YouTube page,
“My 7 yr old is autistic and I have had American friends raving about how these chairs have changed things for their autistic children in the classroom. I want to get one for my son.”
For more information about Runtz chairs, see Safco’s website here