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Wiggle chairs are seats designed to encourage a child to wiggle on them. They sometimes require balancing on something or regular fidgeting to keep upright. Supposedly this helps a child to focus by giving them an outlet for fidgeting that doesn't interfere with their ability to learn. Apparently some elementary schools are providing them for students with the belief it will help them to learn.

I've seen claims both that it helps all children to learn, and claims that these chairs are specifically useful to children with ADHD or autism. However, I've found no real studies to back up the claims, and most of the claims online seem to be by furniture selling sites that have a clear conflict of interest when it comes to claiming these chairs will help kids to learn.

Have there been any proper studies on wiggle chairs, and if so have they been proven effective in assisting young children with learning? I'm particularly interested in rather they have been proven to assist children with ADHD, but I'd be happy to have a study that focused on autism or neurotypical children as well.

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  • Interesting. Also heard it as wobble chairs here in Canada. May 30 '21 at 12:35
  • @LukeSawczak judging from my own experiences as an ADHD kid, where internally leaning on my chair was the best method I found to help me focus, no matter how much adults hated it, I'd guess they would work. But my problem is that while plenty of people are talking about the chairs all of them are potentially biased sources and I've yet to see any studies. My Anecdotal experience isn't enough without some sort of study to back up the claim.
    – dsollen
    Jun 1 '21 at 13:19
  • @dsollen Glad to hear a personal anectdote, but I was certainly surprised to find we owned one of the "wiggle" seat adapter products, my Mom having bought it back in the 90's to help with her bad back. It didn't seem to really wiggle much (as I recall) but it was an effective bit of extra padding that wasn't effective enough to merit continued use. We eventually put it on a less used chair when my Mom tired of dragging it from the sofa to her sewing room.
    – Edwin Buck
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:17
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Summary: Yes, there is some early evidence of a small effect.

Alternative seating is a general term that refers to a number of different furniture options with similar goals. They include the disc cushions (described as "wiggle chairs" in the question), wobble stools and therapy balls.

A 2017 systematic review, Determining the effectiveness of alternative seating systems for students with attention difficulties: A systematic review examined the research on alternative seating in general, and found eight relevant studies.

Six of the studies were related to therapy balls, and three were related to disc cushions (one compared both).

[I want to highlight that the question was about disc cushions but this answer is more influenced by therapy balls. If you agree they are both based on the same mechanism, that should be fine. If you disagree, then you need to discount the strength of this source appropriately, and perhaps follow up with the three cushion-specific references found.]

Many, but certainly not all, of the studies found clinically significant improvements in their measurements - including in-seat behaviour, engagement, reaction times, writing legibility, ADHD Test results, executive function tests, and student and teacher preference.

The best paper (randomised controlled trial) showed only a "small-to-medium" sized effect.

My conclusion was that there is some real evidence, but it isn't strong and the effect isn't large. The author recommends it only as a complement to occupational therapy interventions, at this stage.

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  • Is "Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention" reliable publication? On 1st glance the impact factor is quite low (0.74). It could be that area of study is just very small.
    – pinegulf
    Nov 30 '21 at 12:56
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    @pinegulf: shrug I don't know what a high impact factor for journals about school chairs might be. I don't think that is a good way to assess a single paper in a journal. This particular paper has only been cited once in the 4 years since its publication - positively, but only for some context, not looking at its results.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 30 '21 at 14:02

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