Today’s post is written by Robyn Turnbull, who contributed the first part of the blog all about spandex a few weeks ago.  There was so much to say about this wonderful piece of material that she has shared some more ideas today in Part II.  Robyn is ASI® certified with FM and works in Cape Town.

In Part I of Spandex: It’s more than just a material swing we looked predominantly at the therapeutic value of suspended spandex and the different ways it can be suspended. But how can you get this valuable input with clients when they refuse to get into the spandex swings or don’t have the space for suspended spandex? In Part II we will look at other ways to use spandex and the therapeutic value they offer.

Spandex Tunnel

The spandex tunnel is a great piece of equipment because it takes up little storage space and can easily be transported for school or home visits. More than just convenience, the spandex tunnel offers a lot in terms of therapeutic value too!

Remember that the recommended spandex material we refer to here has a 4 way stretch. This makes the material more flexible and super stretchy. Spandex material typically stretches to 5 to 8 times its original length. Therefore, when making or buying a spandex tunnel you do not want the diameter of the tunnel to be too wide otherwise you will be missing the whole point of using spandex: full body input! But if the tunnel is too narrow it might be intimidating to enter. As a start point I’d recommend a minimum diameter of 65 cm for children.

A tunnel of material provides primarily tactile input, but when you add the stretchiness of spandex it provides resistance on the body as it moves which allows the development of body awareness and coordination of movement (S Smith-Roley, 2001). As the child crawls through the spandex tunnel it stimulates co-activation of muscles, encourages the assumption of a flexion posture and integrates primitive reflexes such as the symmetric tonic neck reflex. That is if you use it as a tunnel, but OT’s are creative and resourceful so there are many more ways to use this tunnel of material such as: using it as a rope to pull on, or sitting on it and being pulled around. Another fun way to use the spandex tunnel is to have the child lie on top and roll themselves into it such as creating a ‘hotdog’. This increases the tactile input and stimulates the development of crossing the midline.

Spandex clothing

Wearing spandex clothing increases whole body tactile input and dulls the effect of the light touch caused by looser fitting items of clothing. The tight fit provides pressure input, which gives more feedback about the movement of the body and calms the neurological system. Spandex or Lycra clothing such as tights or ‘second skin’ shirts can be worn under other clothes as a sensory strategy if the child is over reactive to tactile input or needs more calming proprioceptive input throughout the day.

Photographed is a child in what we call the spandex body suit – or ghost suit. This is a simple design similar to that of a pillow case, where the top flap can be worn over the shoulder or over the head for those seeking intense proprioceptive input. The spandex body suit creates a quiet visual space, and provides increased proprioceptive input to the outside surfaces of the body – particularly at the top of the head and under the feet. The body suit can be worn while doing tasks such as climbing over obstacle courses, swinging or even while seated at tabletop tasks. Doing so increases the tendon stretch and resistance against the body as it moves, increasing the opportunity to develop body awareness and co-contraction.

For traveling parents or therapists a spandex body suit is also great tool to create a calming sensory space when a child may be experiencing over-stimulation. Climbing inside the body suit reduces visual noise, creates a darker space and reduces the threat of possible interaction and intimidating eye contact. Moving inside the body suit provides proprioceptive feedback through joint compression which inhibits the effect of over stimulation.

Spandex Mattress Cover

A spandex mattress cover has become one of the most versatile and fun pieces of equipment in the practice. It is so simple in design so can easily be made yourself if you have access to an over-locker. The spandex mattress cover can be made to any length from 1 meter to tunnel length. When pulled over a mattress it creates a space in which to play which provides whole body compression but allows enough space to incorporate games too. Whether you encourage the child to crawl through the mattress cover or to lie in it while playing perception / fine motor based games the full body proprioceptive feedback is both organizing and develops body awareness.

Odd bits

After making your first spandex mattress cover you might be left with some extra bits of spandex. These odd bits can be very useful in the therapy room. If you have nice long pieces you can use them in a similar way to Theraband™. These spandex offcuts can also be a valuable item in an Alert box or as part of a sensory diet to tie around the legs of chairs or as quick regulators in the classroom. If you have a few pieces you can plait them together to create a long rope which you can pull on while on a swing or scooter board. For added tactile play you can hang the individual pieces on a rod or hoop and create a tunnel or ‘car wash’ which the child can go through.

Being such a simple material and yet having so many ways in which to use it, spandex is an SI therapist’s best friend whether you have suspension points or not. Not only does it provide tactile input, but also proprioceptive input, as well as offering a lot of opportunity to stimulate the vestibular system too.  This makes it a lovely piece of equipment to inhibit over reactivity and balance out the sensory systems at the central nervous system level. Given its modulating effect and ability to challenge skill, it is an asset in any therapy room, school and home.