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From Swings to Compression Clothing: Unlocking Lycra's Potential in Pediatric OT

By Rhoda Erhardt, MS, OTR/L, FAOTA and Heather Schmidt, MS, OTR/L


Occupational therapy practitioners (OTP) are constantly seeking innovative tools and techniques to support children with sensory processing disorders and physical disabilities.

Lycra® materials and equipment have emerged as a valuable resource in this endeavor, offering a wide range of therapeutic opportunities to promote motor and social development. In this blog, we explore the applications, benefits, and creative uses of Lycra® in pediatric occupational therapy (OT).


The Versatility of Lycra®

Lycra®, a trademarked product of DuPont for spandex (elastane) fiber, has gained popularity in pediatric OT due to its adaptability and versatility. Therapists have the option to purchase commercial Lycra® products or create their own equipment using Lycra® fabric. From suspended swings and sheets to ropes, tunnels, and compression clothing, these materials facilitate children's adaptive interactions with their environment, particularly in the realm of play.


Therapeutic Value and Outcomes

Lycra® materials have proven instrumental in achieving positive outcomes in the motor and social domains. Through activities involving Lycra®, therapists target essential components of function, such as reflex integration, muscle strength, stability, balance, coordination, and respiratory functions. Practitioners have observed improvements in reflex integration, efficient weight shifts, movement quality, hand strength, foot function, and gravitational insecurity.


Engaging Activities and Therapeutic Opportunities

Occupational therapy practitioners have identified several favorite activities using Lycra® materials that provide just-right challenges for children while keeping them engaged in the therapeutic process. These activities include climbing through suspended layers of Lycra®, exploring movement and transitioning from one layer to another. The stand-alone Lycra® equipment, such as the Baby Boundex™, offers a safe and supportive environment for younger children to develop gross motor skills and achieve developmental milestones.


Unique Uses and Adaptations

Therapists have demonstrated their creativity by designing unique uses for Lycra® materials. For instance, vertical walls made of Lycra® provide intensive proprioceptive and vestibular experiences when children run into them. Lycra® can be draped over storage tubs, allowing babies to experience motion and activate their righting and equilibrium reactions. The adaptability of Lycra® enables therapists to tailor its characteristics, such as thickness, size, layers, position, length, diameter, and weight to meet the specific needs of each child.


Considerations and Challenges

While Lycra® materials offer numerous benefits, there are considerations to keep in mind. Space requirements for larger equipment can be a challenge in both clinical and home settings. Safety precautions, such as supervision and ensuring unobstructed vision, are essential when using Lycra® materials. Cost is also a factor, particularly for families who wish to incorporate Lycra® into their home programs.


Product Resources

Integrative Education has curated a Resource page featuring a list of products inspired by their courses. Among these products, popular Lycra® items can be found in the Must Have Basics and Effective Sensory Diets Inspired categories. By purchasing these products through the provided links on the Integrative Education website, you are supporting the organization as an Amazon Affiliate, with a small portion of the sale going towards their work.


In Conclusion

The therapeutic use of Lycra® materials and equipment in pediatric OT has demonstrated significant value in facilitating children's motor and social development. Through versatile activities, therapists can harness the benefits of Lycra® to promote reflex integration, muscle strength, balance, coordination, and overall engagement in play and social interactions. As therapists continue to explore innovative ways to incorporate Lycra® into their practice, the possibilities for supporting children's development are endless. With its adaptability and therapeutic potential, Lycra® continues to be a favorite tool for OTPs in their quest to help children reach their fullest potential.


References:

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (4th ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 74 (Suppl. 2). https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.74S2001


Erhard, R. & Schmidt, H. (November, 2016). OTs Love Lycra. ADVANCE for Occupational Therapy Practitioners, 12 - 14.


Dsouza, A. J., Barretto, M., & Raman, V. (June 12, 2012), Uncommon sense: Interactive sensory toys that encourage social interaction among children with autism. Paper presented at the India Interactive Technologies for Children with Special Needs Workshop, Bremen, Germany.


Dunbar, S. B., Carr-Hertel, J., Lieberman, H. A., Perez, B., & Ricks, K. (July, 2012). A pilot study comparison of sensory integration treatment and integrated preschool for children with autism. The Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, 10(3), Article


May-Benson, T. A., & Koomar, J. A. (2010). Systematic review of the research evidence examining the effectiveness of interventions using a sensory integrative approach for children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64, 403–414.


Mukhopadhyay, A., Sharma, I. C., & Mohanty, A. (2003). Impact of lycra filament on extension and recovery characteristics of cotton knitted fabric. Indian journal of fibre & textile research. 28(4), 423-430.


Parham, L. D., Cohn, E. S., Spitzer, S., Koomar, J. A., Miller, L. J., Burke, J. P., Brett-Green, B., Mailloux, Z., May-Benson, T. A., Roley, S. S., Schaaf, R. C., Schoen, S. A., & Summers, C. A. (2007). Fidelity in sensory integration intervention research. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 6 (2), 216–227.


Rathinam, C., Bridges, S., Spokes, G., & Green, D. (2013). Effects of Lycra body suit orthosis on a child with developmental coordination disorder: A case study. Journal of Prosthetics Orthotics, 58 (25), 58-61.


Romeo, D. M., Specchia, A., Sini, F., Bompard, S., Di Polito, A., Del Vecchio, A., ... & Mercuri, E. (2018). Effects of Lycra suits in children with cerebral palsy. European Journal of Paediatric Neurology, 22(5), 831-836.


Richter, E. (April, 2015). Using gravity as a tool to facilitate sensory motor development. Poster session presented at the annual conference of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Nashville, TN.


Tumbl Trak. Baby Boundex. Retrieved July 24, 2023 from https://www.tumbltrak.com/boundex/


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