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how we helped Ryan connect with others, develop social skills

22/11/2021
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Teenager Ryan has transformed so much since being given the use of a Gravity Chair that his support team almost cried with joy.


A pupil at the Percy Hedley Foundation’s Northern Counties School, Ryan has highly complex needs and requires a high level of adult support.

His autism and visual impairment have resulted in significant communication, sensory processing and social interaction difficulties.

He is daily challenged with fatigue and the ability to focus on activities.

At school he was spending much of his time lying on his side in a foetal position, which impacted on his Musculo-skeletal system. This in turn was adversely impacting on his ability to communicate or access the curriculum. It even affected his digestion and safety when eating and drinking. 

Michele McCafferty, the Occupational Therapist within Ryan’s trans-disciplinary team, had prescribed AAT’s Gravity Chair sensory positioning system in the past.

She felt it may be a positive intervention for Ryan, and reached out for an assessment.

AAT supported Michele in assessing the suitability of the Chair for Ryan and loaned one of the positioning systems for trial.

How Gravity Chair works

The Gravity Chair https://www.aatgb.com/gravity-chair/ is a specially designed foam positioning system which offers support, sensory feedback and stability.

The Chair’s low centre of gravity with high arm rests and snug-fitting lateral supports enhance a feeling of safety, security, stability and wellbeing.

The Gravity Chair’s configuration further helps alleviate discomfort from spasm and involuntary movement. So it provides a safe and non-restrictive seating option to ease deformities and contractures.

The ‘hugging’ shape of the chair helps reduce anxiety and distractibility.

The high arms can enhance fine motor control activities.

An optional tilt in space wedge can finitely adjust the Chair’s orientation to gain a more aligned posture when deformities or contractures are present. 

On a practical level, it is lightweight so easy to move around as needed.

Covers are removable and wipeable. The sitting surface is incontinence resistant. 

How Gravity Chair has helped Ryan

The first time Ryan was helped to sit in it, he brought his head up to midline, and vocalised in response to his team’s enquiries.

With regular use, particularly at lunchtime, his posture has improved and he is now interacting more with his support team. 

He has advanced to independently locating food on his plate and attempting to feed himself with a fork.

He is now able to drink from a cup.

It has been so successful that the Foundation has now purchased two Gravity Chairs.

“I am overwhelmed at the success of the Gravity Chair and its positive impact on Ryan. The difference even that first time he sat in it was such that I nearly cried.

“All the staff working with Ryan have commented on how he is so much more aware of his surroundings, and how his posture and interaction with them have improved. It might look like a simple chair, but it’s much more. All in all we are absolutely over the moon at the difference this chair has made to this young man.”

Michael McCafferty, Senior Occupational Therapist

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