Therapeutic trampolining is a relaxed and playful resource, says Ange Anderson.

Trampolining is not yet a Paralympic sport, but tumbling, which is both a gymnastic and trampolining sport, was included in the 1972 Special Olympics, the world’s largest sports organisation for those with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities.

Trampolining is not just a sport that becomes part of a PE lesson. It is also used as a therapeutic intervention. Therapeutic trampolining is not at all competitive and aims to support a physiotherapist’s programme. Trampolines are sometimes referred to as rebounders, and sometimes therapeutic trampolining is referred to as rebound therapy.

A trampoline session can make learning more enjoyable for students who are neurodiverse when the session is delivered differently depending on the needs of the student. Winstrada is the international body for the promotion and development of recreational and therapeutic gymnastics and trampolining. On the website, you will find teaching resources for the development and measurement of a student’s progress as well as badges and certificates that can motivate and reward progress and effort. Sometimes we do not realise that a student has made progress, and Winstrada makes it easy to record small improvements. 

When thinking about trampolining for people with PMLD, it is worth bearing in mind that it’s only in the last fifty years that students with PMLD have been able to access school in the UK. A mainstream curriculum may not suit the needs of a student with PMLD, and they deserve a therapeutic curriculum that enables that student to be in the right frame of mind to learn. Students with PMLD have many issues to overcome in order to be in the right frame of mind to learn. Many are wheelchair bound and could be confined to wheelchairs for much of the day. Relevant therapies provide an opportunity for these students to develop fundamental skills and understanding. Thankfully there are many therapies available today that can be delivered in schools. I introduced more than twenty five therapeutic interventions into my last school that are still being delivered today. 

To deliver rebound therapy, a school needs a trampoline, and they need to seek advice regarding the purchase, housing, and maintenance of this equipment, as well as copyable policies and risk assessments. In some schools physiotherapists use the school trampoline to deliver their physiotherapy programmes. This allows them to deliver their sessions with a more relaxed and playful approach. Some schools send staff on a rebound therapy training course run by national organisations or use the local trampoline club where a trained member of school staff or club staff lead the sessions.

Trampolining encourages head control.

In my experience none of my students ever looked forward to a physiotherapy session, yet every single student looked forward to a session on the trampoline. Therapists reported that students became excited when they saw the therapist enter the class. As if they anticipated a trampoline session was likely to happen soon. 

Therapists say that communication is the area where most rapid development occurs, purely because the student has to communicate if they want more: a tap on the trampoline, a touch on the therapist’s arm, use of sign language, or direct eye contact and vocalisations. Therapists reported that students listened to instructions carefully because the therapist would not continue with the session until there was a confirmation response from the student that they wanted the session to continue.

There are many trampoline aids that can be purchased (or indeed loaned from the occupational health team of your local authority). These aids have been specifically developed for use on the trampoline and are light enough to be portable but heavy enough to offer positioning support during trampoline therapy. The Nessie aid, for example, has bumps and contours shaped to provide support during the primary positions associated with physical play therapy, such as when long sitting. Long sitting is an important part of child development—it encourages head control, hands to midline and reaching for toys, and it promotes transverse weight-bearing through arms and shoulders.

I have used the trampoline for many years and was trained in rebound therapy in the 1990’s. I have always ensured that a trampoline was available for students in my schools because I saw the positive effects on students who used it. I have always ensured enough staff were trained in delivering the therapy and that their training was up to date. This ensures no student misses out on accessing this important therapy. 

I am reminded of a student called Alison, who was diagnosed with Niemann Pick C disease when she was nine. She had been an energetic and lively child, but she stopped walking not long after her diagnosis. Then Alison stopped talking, and then she stopped moving altogether. She became locked inside herself, and suffered from depression. Alison’s older sister had died of the disease, and Alison knew that she would die too. The only time she laughed and seemed to enjoy life was when she had rebound therapy. She loved it, and we ensured she received it most days. It was good for her physically and mentally, and it made her communicate. She loved a band called Boyzone, and she would communicate that she wanted the music played while taking part in rebound therapy. If the music stopped, she would immediately let everyone in the room know that she wanted it back on.

Ange Anderson
Author: Ange Anderson

Ange Anderson
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Ange Anderson M.Ed opened and led an innovative specialist school in North Wales for 10 years introducing over 25 different therapeutic/technological interventions to support pupils with learning differences. She is the author of books and articles and presents internationally on therapeutic and technological interventions.



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