Ball chair lets Nathan move, focus and learn with his classmates

News-DemocratJanuary 5, 2014 

Fifth-grader Nathan Little bounces on his ball chair when teacher Elissa Garland asks him a math question.

"What do you think is larger?" she asks: 8.560 or 8.561.

"8.561 is larger, but just barely," Nate answers, stretching his arms out flat on his desk and bouncing in his chair.

Nate and his class were completing a worksheet together at Jefferson Elementary School in Belleville.

Nate, 10, is thriving this school year, according to his mother Angela Little, of Belleville. "This school year is going the best it's ever gone," she said.

Angela credits Nate's success in part to the plastic ball chair he uses in class. The chair has a spot in the middle for a large red exercise ball and a back support. And it's on wheels.

Nate, who has brown hair and glasses, described the ball chair as "nice. I like how I really don't get that wiggly feeling I get in a normal chair."

Nate has a variety of diagnoses that require special accommodations to keep him in a regular classroom.

"I like him in the regular classroom; that's where he needs to be," Angela said. "Being with kids his age and being with other kids in his classroom is very important for him."

Nate's official diagnoses include Asperger's syndrome, anxiety with obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and sensory integration issues.

Both his teacher and mother praise Nate's academic ability. "He's crazy smart," Angela said. "He surprises me daily."

"He's brilliant," Garland said. "I love him."

The ball chair helps Nate expel some of his extra energy. "He has a very difficult time staying still," Angela said. "It gives him the freedom to move without it being a huge distraction to other children or to him."

"It helps him to focus, because he has this internal need to move," Garland said of the ball chair. "He can focus more on me on what I'm saying and what we are doing."

During a group activity, Nate rolled his chair back and forth as he completed a language arts worksheet with two classmates. An orange rectangle taped on the floor designates the boundaries in which he must remain.

Before Nate had the ball chair in September, Garland said he was more apt to get out of his chair and roll on the floor. "This keeps him in his chair," she said.

Nate's autism specialist Chris Gibson described Nate as a "sensory seeker. He craves sensory input."

Gibson, who recommended the ball chair for Nate, explained it gives him the ability for "constant movement. It helps keep him more settled and more regulated." That helps Nate pay attention better and improves his behavior in class.

Nate not only prospers from being in a regular classroom setting, but his classmates benefit as well, said his mother and teacher.

"Nathan being in that classroom has really brought the best out of those kids," Angela said. "They are so good to him."

When Nate got upset about losing his pencil, his classmates jumped in to help him find it. A few minutes later, Nate announced, "Never mind, it's in my shirt."

"I think he makes all of us better people," Garland said. "He brings out our empathy."

Angela praised Belleville School District 118 and the services it provides.

"My son would not be as far as he is now without them," she said. Angela and her husband Dan Little also have two younger children, 4 and 6 years old.

Nate has been attending Jefferson for the last three years. He went to a private school before that.


Other alternative seats

In addition to ball chairs, District 118 also has other alternative seating including move-and-sit cushions, stoolies and a HowdaHUG.

District 118 occupational therapist Bessie Lewis said alternative seating are tools to try with students.

"It helps regulate their bodies so they will be more attentive, alert, calm, focused and organized to improve school performance and to enhance positive social interactions," she said. "They do not work for all, but they do work for some."

Superintendent Matt Klosterman said District 118 students currently use seven ball chairs; 16 move-and-sit cushions; and eight stoolies.

The district uses move-and-sit cushions the most, occupational therapist Katie Eckert said. The move-and-sit cushions are inflatable and can be placed on the seat of a chair to mimic the movement of an exercise ball. One side of the cushion is bumpy and the other side is smooth.

"It allows you to wiggle around a little bit," Eckert said, noting some teachers call them "the magic red dot."

The cushions are portable, so students can transport them from class to class.

A stoolie is a plastic stool that has a rocking bottom. It allows students to rock back and forth.

"They can still move and sit and do what they need to do," Eckert said. "It gives them the proper outlet so they can still learn.

District 118 is piloting a HowdaHUG this school year, which can be used in a chair or on the floor. "When they sit in it, it kind of cradles their body and gives them deep pressure," Lewis said.

The district uses chair socks as well to allow students more movement in a stationary chair. A tennis ball with two large slits cut into it can be used as a chair sock. Using two of these "socks" on a chair can allow the student to rock back and forth.

"We have a lot of students who like to fidget and move, but this gives them that opportunity to fidget and move but within their seat," Lewis said.

Eckert praised the use of alternative seating as a means to assist children in remaining in the regular education classroom.

"If you don't allow them to move, the chances of them focusing on the teacher and taking in the information and getting the curriculum and learning is very slim," Eckert said. "If they have that chance to move their body and move around and not have to focus on sitting still, then their focus can go to the teacher to the curriculum to the information being taught."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or

Who is Nathan Little?

"If you want someone to act weird, I'm your guy," he said.

Age: 10

Grade: Fifth

Favorite subject: Reading.

Favorite book: "Weird Illinois" (by Troy Taylor and Mark Sceurman)

Favorite foods: Ramen noodles, plain butter noodles and mac and cheese

Hobbies: Video games

Favorite video game: Pokemon Y for the Nintendo 3DS

Homework: Not a fan. "I don't think anyone is," he said. "If they are, they are probably an alien."

was wearing a long-sleeved gray Cub Scouts shirt.

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