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Hammock as Therapy for Children with Autism

March 06, 2019 5 min read

one multicoloured hammock chair and one blue hammock chair with a child sitting in it next to the beach

Audio Version

This Autism Awareness Day, Discover the Healing Powers of Hammocks

If you have an autistic child, you’ve likely explored many different types of therapy for them. As a disorder which features difficulties in sensory processing, autism symptoms can often be treated by reducing sensory stimulus and replacing it with more comforting, repetitive motions.

One of these effective home-based therapies is the use of hammocks.

Read More: Hang in A Hammock for Better Mental Health

Thanks to social media, in recent years, people from all over the world are sharing their stories of how hammocks help their little ones live a more calm, comfortable life.

Here's what you need to know.

What is Autism?

Autism is a broad condition that covers a vast spectrum of symptoms and behavioural side effects. Some children with autism have difficulty connecting to their peers while others may be unaffected. Oftentimes, children with autism are non-verbal and unable to handle large amounts of stimulus at once. In general, autistic children have difficulty processing sensory stimulus and tend to fixate on specific things that captivates them.

The cause of autism is not yet fully understood, and we only have a generic understanding of this condition. One thing is clear, though, children with autism understand the world a little differently.

Celebrations such as Autism Awareness Day have gone a long way towards explaining what autism is to the general public, but because it's such a unique, person-to-person disorder, it can be challenging to identify treatments that are effective for everyone. Despite this, there are some genuine reasons why a hammock could be beneficial to many autistic children, at either end of the spectrum.

Two young children play chasing a red balloon

The Vestibular System and Autism

The vestibular system is what controls your sense of movement and balance. If you spin around and then feel dizzy, that is because your vestibular system has been impacted. Autistic children frequently have sensory processing issues.

In order to block out unpleasant or unbearable senses, autistic children may "stim" through motion, such as rocking back and forth. This is one reason why movement therapy for autism is occasionally recommended. 

Hammocks as a Form of Autism Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no known "cure" for autism. Rather, some treatments can reduce the negative impact of autism. A therapy hammock swing can potentially help with these symptoms for a few reasons:

  • Rocking Effect – Rocking back and forth is something that many autistic children naturally do to self-soothe. Hammocks are great at facilitating this motion in a calming, relaxing way.
  • Enclosing Effect – Pressure is well-known to calm autistic children, providing a sense of safety and security. The natural shape of a hammock cocoons individuals whether they’re lying down or sitting in a hammock chair.
  • Association – Over time, a hammock will become associated with feelings of comfort and safety. This association is essential for those with neurotypical issues.

Ultimately, a hammock can become a safe place for a child in which their senses aren’t overwhelmed.

Boy sleeps in an orange hammock

Hammocks for Soothing and Calming Children

Hammocks are known to be soothing to people, so it's no surprise that they could be soothing to neurotypical children as well. Many people find the repetitive, rocking motion of a hammock relaxing, but it also bring on a sense of comfort and safety. For children with autism, hammocks can be used to help with various difficulties including:

  • During Moments of Frustration – Autistic children may get frustrated when they can't interact or convey a message effectively. A hammock can act like a positive version of a "time out" for during these moments, where they can go when they feel like they need to calm down.
  • When Over-Stimulated – Many autistic children will flap, rock, or otherwise stim when they have become over-stimulated. With a hammock to retreat to, they can instead put in earplugs, get into their hammock, and rock until they feel as though the overstimulation and noise has quieted around them.
  • As a Method of Self-Soothing – To become independent, it's necessary for autistic children to learn how to manage their own stress and emotions. Being able to retreat to a hammock on their own, when they recognize their stress levels rising, can foster this type of self-care and independence.
Read More: Hammock Safety Tips for Children and Parents

A hammock is a tool—and it's a tool that an autistic child can learn to use on their own. This makes it valuable, as it can empower children to take control and manage the challenges they face.

The Benefits of Therapy Hammocks

There are many types of treatment for autism, including things like weighted blankets. What makes a therapy hammock swing the ideal solution? Therapy hammocks:

  • Provide a Swaying Motion – It's easy to achieve and maintain a comfortable, swaying motion in a hammock.
  • Have a Snug Fit – Being enclosed in a tight space is naturally calming for those with autism as it reduces external senses.
  • Are customizable – Therapy hammocks come in a variety of colours and textures, which can be suited towards your child’s preferences.

And, of course, it's important to note again that every autistic child presents their autism a little differently. High-functioning autistic children will be able to verbally communicate whether they find their therapy hammock comforting while other children will communicate their comfort through body language or other non-verbal queues. It’s important to pay close attention to how they interact with their hammock to get a good understanding of how it positively affects them.

Activities an Autistic Child Can Do in a Hammock

Hammocks do more than just help soothe children. Autistic children can do a lot in a hammock during their daily life:

  • Sleep
  • Read
  • Play video games
  • Do homework
  • Watch movies

Therapy hammocks will reduce their stress and anxiety over time, not just when they are experiencing a massive anxiety attack. By reducing stress and anxiety in general, you can reduce the chances of a more dramatic stress reaction.

Read More:6 Major Health Benefits of Sleeping in A Hammock

Many of the principles behind hammocks have been shown to be instrumental in helping children with autism. These children benefit from rocking motions and enclosure, and a hammock is versatile and useful tool to be used for just about everything.

If you have a child with autism, it may be worth while to explore the possibility of adding a therapy hammock swing to your home. You can test out different hammocks to get a feel for what they are most comfortable with and see whether it has a positive effect.

Learn More About World Autism Awareness Day