5 Expert Tips to Help You Choose the Best Special Needs Seating

Children with special needs require unique care and attention in order to remain safe, comfortable, and engaged with their surroundings. Special needs seating, including activity chairs, hi-lo chairs, strollers, and car seats, are designed especially to provide this care and support for ideal positioning and postural alignment, but with the wide range of needs that these seating solutions can accommodate, it can be difficult to choose exactly the right one for your child.

To make the process of comparison and shopping easier, we reached out to several experts in the field of pediatric special needs seating, asking them to share their most important tips for how to choose the best seating options for your child. 

What do the experts say?

In addition to consulting with your child’s healthcare and/or therapy team, these helpful tips from some of the leading experts in the special needs seating industry will assist you in finding exactly the right seating solution for your own special child.

1. Steve Fischer is the Vice President of Bergeron Health Care, manufacturers of Special Tomato products. With a pediatrics focus for almost 30 years, watching trends come and go, Fischer’s most important tip is to highlight their Special Tomato philosophy: that every child with positioning deficiencies needs both a primary and a secondary seating-positioning system.

He said, “You don’t sit in the same chair all day then all night. Your body needs different textures and points of contact to prevent skin shearing & breakdown and maintain healthy blood flow. Unfortunately, in today’s market of cutting expenses by every means possible; secondary seating systems appear to be viewed as a luxury and thus are dismissed by many insurance and third-party providers. Many times, this trend puts the responsibility of providing the secondary seating system on the family and caregivers at their own expense.

I feel that when selecting a child’s secondary seating system that it meets the following criteria:

Clinically correct: Providing proper posture and comfort. After spending all day in a properly positioned wheelchair, for example, you don’t want to place your child in a destructive position in the evening.

Versatile: Meaning that they can be used for more than 1 type of application.

Parents accumulate a lot of various specific equipment when caring for a special needs child. We believe that if we can make products that can be used for various applications, it saves money and space for the family.

An example of this would be the best-selling Special Tomato Soft-Touch Sitters. Aside from every Sitter having proper postural support and comfort, our Soft-Touch Sitters have back and bottom straps attached so that the Sitters can be used on various seating surfaces, like kitchen chairs allowing for the inclusion of the child at family dinners creating what we like to call a 'Kitchen-Table Connection'. Sitters can also be used at schools, restaurants, stadium seats, movie theaters, etc.

Our newly released lightweight Soft-Touch Booster Car Seat has the same features as our Sitters being that it can be used in various applications, but that it has also been crash-tested and is truly a lightweight booster car seat making it very popular with caregivers. Parents can use it in their car and then take it out for use with other seating requirements, making it a real time saver and money saver.

Affordably priced: Special Tomato recognizes that many people have to buy out of pocket so we strive to keep our products affordably priced.

2. Julia McNally is a PT, DPT, and the CEO of TherAdapt. As a therapist-owned company, TherAdapt has been a leader in the pediatric therapy equipment field for over 20 years, creating devices for kids with special needs by integrating input from parents, caregivers, teachers, therapists, and equipment specialists. McNally shared her thoughts about a common problem often seen with sitting kids of all ages and ability levels, and how easy it is to fix: dangling feet.

“Unsupported ("dangling") feet are ubiquitous in classrooms but very easy to fix with simple solutions like the TherAdapt Adjustable Foot Stool,” McNally said. “This product works along with existing chairs to provide a firm, stable surface for students' feet, and helps improve their sitting posture."

3. Rick Glynn is the Southeast Regional Category Vice President of Inspired by Drive, a company inspired by special needs families, with a focus on providing equipment that offers positioning and mobility support for kids (and adults) at home, school, and on the go. As an amalgamation of Columbia Medical, Wenzelite Rehab, Drive Medical, and DeVilbiss Healthcare, Inspired by Drive offers over 50 years of pediatric rehab history and experience.

When asked for the best tip in choosing the correct seating for a child with special needs, Rick Glynn wanted to stress the importance of choosing the right size, and taking accurate measurements.

When looking for special needs seating it is very important that the individual is measured properly for the equipment being purchased,” he said. “Equipment that doesn’t fit, doesn’t provide support, negating the original intent of the equipment, so proper measurements are essential for proper support and positioning no matter what piece of equipment you’re shopping for.

4. Josh Tucker is the National Sales Manager for Leggero, LLC. Serving children with special needs worldwide, Leggero is a well-known, international mobility device manufacturer, consistently creating their products to adapt to the child, and not the other way around. Tucker says that proper positioning combined with the tilt function is one of the most important considerations in choosing special needs seating support for your child.

Tilt is a must-have due to pressure redistribution,” Tucker said. “Tilting shifts body weight to relieve pressure from certain areas of the body, which is important for users who spend all day in their wheelchairs. It also helps improve circulation. With tilt, we can also enhance visual orientation, speech, and alertness.

Reclining has some of the same benefits of tilt. We do need to keep an eye out for shearing in recline mode. When the chair is reclined, gravity comes into effect and causes the body to slide downward. Tilt-in-space adjustments can position the child for their physical health benefits, and also impact numerous daily activities. Capacity for use of communication devices can be improved, and feeding capabilities can be improved as well.

Tucker further explained that for kids with cerebral palsy functioning at Level V of the Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS), which is the highest level of CP disability, supportive sitting, positioning, and tilting capabilities are even more crucial. Level V means that their level of movement is extremely low - if any, he said. Therefore, repositioning oneself is not possible. This could lead to skin breakdown (decubitus ulcers). The lack of muscle use leads to atrophy and, in some cases, contractures. This is where tilt is beneficial. We can take pressure off of the ischials and redistribute. So yes, skin breakdown is a common concern. If the child is unable to communicate to you that they are not comfortable, it is up the caregiver to make sure they are being positioned properly and alleviating pressure.

Tucker added, I firmly believe sitting and positioning are key. Their ability to maintain anti-gravity head and trunk postures and arm/leg control is extremely limited. Having appropriate positioning and seating can have a positive impact on the pulmonary function of children with cerebral palsy, with implications for capacity for speech and overall lung health.”

5. Lori Potts is a Physical Therapist and the Product and Training Specialist for Rifton. As one of the adaptive equipment field’s leading innovators since 1977, Rifton is fully committed to creating a wide range of special needs seating options for children. Their therapist-driven designs and exceptional testing procedures ensure the best equipment to meet every unique demand.

When consulted, Lori Potts advised that adjustability is the key component to look for when you’re shopping for special needs seating for your child.

A number one tip when you choose special needs seating is to look at adjustability, particularly for tilt-in-space, she explained. Adaptive seating that provides tool-free adjustability with the child in the chair is ideal, and the tilt-in-space feature allows you to reposition the child for tone reduction, pressure relief, and to optimize positioning for feeding, all while maintaining the same angles at the hips, knees, and feet that are best for the child. The Rifton Activity Chair offers exactly these features.

Summary

As a daily necessity for children and teens living with physical, intellectual, or emotional disabilities, special needs seating solutions come in a wide variety of options and accessories to ensure every unique child’s requirements are met. With their vast array of supports and functions, pediatric seating equipment for special needs also come in a comprehensive selection of styles, sizes, and aesthetics to suit every family.

Experts in this field highlight the most essential tips in finding the right seating solution for children with special needs, including the importance of correctly measuring your child and selecting the right size equipment, adjustability features, and correct positioning support. They also stressed how crucial it is to relieve pressure with tilt or recline functions, as well as the importance of supporting the feet with a footrest.

For more helpful tips, check out the rest of the great articles available at Caregiver University. And, when you're ready to compare products or looking to make your final purchase, be sure to check our full selection of products that cater to special needs children.

Author:

Co-founder/CEO of Rehabmart, Pediatric Occupational Therapist, husband, and father. Passionate about connecting special needs kids with superb nutrition, sensory integration, and complementary health strategies. Excited about Rehabmart's mission to become the premier online educational platform which empowers caregivers by spotlighting innovative devices and interventions to achieve optimal patient response and recovery.

Meet all of our experts here!

Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter
Join 150,811 Subscribers!