Portable Seating Attachment for Autistic Individuals

Marissa Birmingham, University of Portland

Copyright for this work is retained by the author.


Autism is a neurological disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It is often referred to as a spectrum disorder because there is a wide variation in symptoms among children. For example, one team member worked with a child with autism who was completely nonverbal, but instead used sign language to communicate, and an adult autistic person who had no trouble speaking. Autism is reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups and in 2010, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1 in 68 children in the United States identify with this disorder. Many people with autism also suffer from other disorders and symptoms. The disorder that the team’s device focuses on is sensory processing disorder. Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that has been found to affect three-quarters of children with Autism and prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. One of the senses that SPD affects is the vestibular sense, which uses semicircular canals in the inner ear to control balance and postural alignment. The damage that SPD causes to the vestibular system, which is important for postural alignment and balance, is especially detrimental to individuals who need to sit in a classroom or office for long periods of time. Those affected have trouble telling how their bodies are moving in relationship to space and gravity and exhibit behaviors such as repetitive fidgeting, slouching, and sliding off their chair. Positive forms of vestibular input that help these individuals to remain in place include linear swings, trampolines, and rocking chairs. The team approached the director for the Autism Society of Oregon to discuss what product would best serve the needs of the autism community and those who have this condition. Currently, alternative seats such as ball chairs, gel cushions, and motorized gliding chairs are used to address the need for vestibular input. The issue is that these seats are either too large to carry around when an individual moves to a new environment or are limited to one function such as bouncing. The team members decided to address this issue by designing a portable and multifunctional seating attachment. Since vestibular damage is found in multiple disorders (e.g. Autism, attention deficit disorder, traumatic brain injury), the design of this seating attachment could have a widespread effect on classroom and workplace performance.