What is it?
The vestibular system is responsible for receiving information as the body moves through its environment. Located within the inner ear, the vestibular system receives sensory information from head movement and gravity to maintain balance, equilibrium and movement through space. Movement and balance is necessary for children to explore their environment. It is also important in the development of emotional security and confidence. For children, vestibular movement can include running, jumping, swinging, or spinning. If a child is hyperresponsive to vestibular input, they will often avoid too much movement because it makes their body feel unbalanced and insecure. If a child is hyporesponsive to vestibular input they may seek excessive amounts of movement that could be considered unsafe at times.
Signs to look for:
- Hyperresponsive Behaviors
- Gets car sick/motion sickness
- Doesn't like movement (swings, slides, roller coasters)
- Avoids having head be upside down/tipped backwards (hair washing or getting diaper changed)
- Appear to be clumsy or unsteady
- Hyporesponsive Behaviors
- Always spinning, running, moving, fidgeting Doesn't get dizzy
- Risky behavior
- May be impulsive
- Enjoy being upside down
How occupational therapy can help?
Occupational Therapy (OT) can help children with vestibular sensory processing difficulties better engage in activities at home, school, and in the community. Using play and sensory strategies, OT can gradually increase a child's tolerance to vestibular movement; provide a safe environment to seek vestibular input; provide strategies to increase sensory input into other sensory systems that may help to regulate the vestibular system; and work with parents and caregivers to educate about activities to try at home.
Ideas to try at home:
- Hyperresponsive: Slow rhythmic movement (rocking, swinging}, balance activities, deep pressure (proprioception is calming)
- Hyporesponsive: Provide safe opportunities for movement, rotary swings (tire), jumping, unpredictable movement
- Parent Support Facebook Group: search "Support for Sensory Needs" click "join group"