Finding a good chair for your special needs toddler isn’t easy. Those cute table-and-chair sets from IKEA and Pottery Barn are made for older kids. Sometimes much older, like the size of kids in kindergarten. Even a larger child with motor or sensory issues will often fall right off those standard chairs!
Should you use a low bench or a chair?
I am a big fan of the Baby Bjorn footstool for bench sitting in therapy, but without a back, many toddlers don’t sit for very long without an adult to sit with them. Independent sitting and playing is important to develop motor and cognitive skills. The cute little toddler armchairs that you can get with their name embroidered on the backrest look great, but kids with sensory or motor issues end up in all sorts of awkward positions in them. Those chairs aren’t a good choice for any hypermobile child or children with spasticity.
Enter the cube chair. It has so many great features, I thought I would list them for you:
- Made of plastic, it is relatively lightweight and easy to clean. While not non-slip, there is a slight texture on the surface that helps objects grip a little. Add some dycem or another non-slip surface, and you are all set.
- Cube chairs can be a safe choice for “clumsy” kids. Kids fall. It happens to all of them. The design makes it very stable, so it is harder to tip over. The rounded edges are safer than the sharp wooden corners on standard activity tables.
- It isn’t very expensive. Easily found on special needs sites, it is affordable and durable.
- A cube chair is also a TABLE! That’s right; turn it over, and it is now a square table that doesn’t tip over easily when your toddler leans on it.
- Get two: now you have a chair and table set! Or use them pushed together as a larger table or a stable surface for your child to cruise around to practice walking. That texture will help them maintain their grip. The chairs can stack for storage, but you really will be using them all the time. You won’t be storing them.
- It has two seat heights. Look at the photos above: when your child is younger, use the lower seat with a higher back and sides for support and safety. When your child gets taller, use the other side for a slightly higher seat with less back support.
- The cube chair is quite stable for kids that need to hold onto armrests to get in and out of a chair. The truly therapeutic chairs, such as the Rifton line, are the ultimate in stability, but they are very expensive, very heavy, and made of solid wood. They are often rejected by kids and families for their institutional look. If you can use a cube chair, everyone will be happier.
Which kids don’t do well with these chairs?
Children who use cube chairs have to be able to sit without assistance and actively use their hip and thigh muscles to stabilize their feet on the floor. Kids with such significant trunk instability that they need a pelvic “seatbelt” and/or lateral supports won’t do well with this chair. A cube chair isn’t going to give them enough postural support. If you aren’t sure if your child has these skills, ask your occupational or physical therapist. They could save you money and time by giving you more specific seating recommendations for your child.
Your child may be too small or too large for a cube chair. Kids who were born prematurely often remain smaller and shorter for the first years, and a child needs to be at least 28-30 inches tall (71-76 cm) to sit well in a cube chair without padding.
You may add a firm foam wedge to activate trunk muscles if they can use one and still maintain their posture in this chair, or use the Stokke-style chair (A Simple Strategy To Improve Your Child’s Posture In A Stokke Tripp Trapp or Special Tomato Chair ) or the Rifton chair until your child has developed enough control to take advantage of a cube chair. If your child sits on the floor but uses a “W-sitting” pattern, learn about alternatives in Three Ways To Reduce W-Sitting (And Why It Matters) .
Looking for more information on positioning and play? Check out Kids With Low Muscle Tone: The Hidden Problems With Strollers, For Kids With Sensory Issues and Low Tone, Add Resistance Instead of Hand-Over-Hand Assistance .
And of course…my NEW e-book!
The JointSmart Child: Living and Thriving With Hypermobility Volume One The Early Years is now available on Amazon.com as a read-only download and at Your Therapy Source as a clickable and printable download.
It has an entire chapter on seating and positioning for ages 0-5, and so much more. Chapters on how to carry and hold a child, how to build safety at home and in the community, and how to talk with your family, teachers, friends and even your doctor about your child’s needs! Read more here: Parents of Young Hypermobile Children (and Their Therapists) Finally Get Their Empowerment Manual!
Worried about toilet training? I wrote the e-book you are looking for!
Read The Practical Guide to Toilet Training Your Child With Low Muscle Tone: Potty Training Help Has Arrived! to learn why my book will help you more than a generalized special needs toileting book. OK, I’ll tell you: you learn why low tone makes thing harder, and why doing pre-training is like investing money for retirement. It pays off in the long run! Loaded with checklists and quick reference summaries made for busy parents, this book is filled with things you can start using immediately, even if your child isn’t close to independence.