Autism Chair by Rifton: Providing Movement Sensory Input through Adaptive Seating

June 14, 2011 by Lori Potts, PT

The Rifton Activity Chair showing the spring option feature is crucial when used as an Autism chair.Children with an autism spectrum disorder find it difficult to focus. And when a child’s autism manifests in combination with profound mental retardation or with a developmental syndrome with physical limitations the difficulties with social interaction and attention to task are compounded. For the special education teacher, having children with autism in the classroom is challenging.

The constant need for movement sensory input as well as the presence of decreased (or increased) muscle tone often results in adverse responses by the student toward sitting. As classroom staff well know, repetitive fidgeting, rocking, slouching, or sliding off the chair are typical behaviors for the student with autism. Could the right seating make the difference?

Teacher and therapist experience has shown the Rifton Autism Chair (or stationary base chair) with its dynamic spring option, to be a successful choice for children with autism. Proprioceptive nerves in the muscles, tendons, and joints communicate to the brain where the body is in space and how it is moving. Children with autism or with attention or sensory-related disorders have found that the stimulation provided through movement helps them to remain in place and attentive during activities such as story-time.

More Than a Stationary Chair
The optional springs on the Rifton Autism Chair allow the backrest to “give” with extension pressure, and/or the seat to “rock” depending on the settings of the spring columns. These can easily be set into either the locked or unlocked position. When unlocked to allow movement, the sensory input can have a calming effect for children with autism.

The sensory input received by the student through repetitive bouncing while seated can help promote focus and may alter muscle tone. The frequent postural adjustments may potentially strengthen the core abdominal and trunk muscles, which in turn can promote better motor control for upper extremity use. Listening to a story or playing with squeeze toys are activities for children with autism that can be combined with the rocking motion. Children who need a sensory break may benefit from rocking in a Rifton Activity Chair while in a quiet area, to calm down and regroup.

It is always important to remember that for children with autism activities that are simple for other students can be complex or wearisome or both. Children with autism use their minds and bodies in a unique manner. Therefore traditional furniture is sometimes inappropriate.

More than one option for adaptive seating for children with autism should be explored in order to find the right one for each child. Recognizing the unique needs and challenges of students with autism enables classroom teachers and therapists to provide alternatives that can make or break the educational experience for the child.

The Rifton Autism Chair is designed to withstand repeated stress on the frame, and the result is a sturdy, heavier chair that will not move along the floor with the student’s movement. The accessories are optional, allowing for fewer parts to fiddle with or destroy. The design lends itself to the classroom; it fits in without looking “adaptive” and places students at the level of their peers.

Features of particular interest for children with autism include the Dynamic Spring and the Rifton Activity Chair Lumbar and Seat Support Kit. Placing the seat support securely beneath the seat pad to form an ischial shelf will help prevent the child with autism from sliding forward on the seat.

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Reply by aliza on December 16, 2013 at 4:44 PM
Does the autism chair have a strap and an optional tray?
Reply by Elena on December 17, 2013 at 3:01 PM

Hi Aliza,

The chair (or Rifton Activity chair as it is more commonly known) does come with a variety of positioning straps and supports as well as a tray. This link shows you all the positioning supports that are available for the chair:


Reply by Lisa on October 22, 2014 at 4:12 PM
Do you know of any research artlicles that address the use of adaptive/structured seating for children with autism?
Reply by Elena on October 22, 2014 at 4:30 PM
Hi Lisa, As far as I can see, the only research articles available on this topic address children with autism and seating on therapy balls and cushions. Unfortunately there is nothing in the journals yet about adaptive/structured seating options for this population.
Reply by Kurt brown on February 20, 2015 at 5:06 PM
My daughter is an extreme rocker when she is stressed or upset. How responsive is this to rocking? Such as how much pressure and padding is there so not to jar or bruise? This is an excellent idea, and could be perfect for us.
Reply by Elena Noble on February 23, 2015 at 11:25 AM
Hi Kurt, The Rifton Activity chair comes with a dynamic spring in both the seat and the back which works great for many so-called rockers. As is always the case, supervision is important. For someone who is an extreme rocker, we recommend using a footboard and keeping the footboard close to the floor as this helps control the magnitude of the rocking while still allowing ample movement. The padding and protection on the chair are good and the “give” in the dynamic spring prevents any jarring. Please call if you have further questions- 800-571-8198
Reply by Diana on March 04, 2016 at 2:12 AM
Hi, I have a student with autism who frequently rocks back and forth in her typical classroom chair with alot of force. She has already broken 3 chairs. She is a big girl who weighs close to 150 lbs and wanted to know if this chair would benefit her.
Reply by Rifton Equipment on March 04, 2016 at 2:53 PM
The Rifton Activity chair with the dynamic spring option is specifically intended for children who rock back and forth. The standard base offers this dynamic feature in both the seat and the backrest. The hi lo base offers the dynamic feature in the backrest only. The maximum weight for the medium size Activity Chair is 150lb, and for the large size is 250lb. A health care professional working directly with the child can determine sizing and make the appropriate selection of chair style and accessories.
Reply by Liana on May 24, 2017 at 9:18 AM
Does the dynamic spring protect against tipping backwards for the standard chair?
Reply by Elena on May 24, 2017 at 2:39 PM
Hi Liana, For heavy rockers, the dynamic spring lessens the chance of tipping, but does not prevent it. If someone is forceful enough to tip the chair, then another seating option should be found. One idea: Try using a footboard with the chair. For a rocker, having the feet on a footboard and pushing off the footboard as opposed to the floor counter-balances tipping potential. Additionally, if the chair has wheels, unlock them and let the chair move with the child- that has helped a few dynamic rockers!