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If your child has been to a therapist or you have looked up your child’s symptoms on-line you may have heard reference to the word vestibular. And like most people, probably didn’t know what they were talking about!

Vestibular input is one of the core elements of sensory integration therapy. Our bodies’ vestibular system is the sensory system that provides the primary input about movement, balance, spatial awareness and positioning. It helps us prepare our posture, maintain our balance, properly use our vision, calm ourselves and regulate our behavior.  The vestibular system is housed closely to the visual & auditory systems making them all affect each other.

Children with sensory issues may have an under reactive vestibular system or an overreactive vestibular system.  In this post we will be talking about the under reactive system.  These are the children that may show no signs of dizziness or queasiness after several minutes of spinning and it is an indication that the vestibular input is not getting to where it should go.

spinning-child

It is generally agreed that the functions of the higher parts of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, are partially dependent upon lower subcortical functions. The language center in the left cerebral hemisphere (in right-handed individuals) is part of a larger network involving other parts of the cortex and also subcortical integrating centers.  For speech to develop and occur, the higher and lower centers must constantly interact.  If vestibular processes in the lower centers are deficient, the higher areas will have a hard time producing normal speech.  It is easy to see that vestibular input has some facilitatory effect on vocalization.  Most children yell & scream on roller coasters and yell “Yippee” going down slides.

A CHECKLIST

The following questions include some of the signs and symptoms of a vestibular-bilateral integration problem. Not all of the signs & symptoms are seen in any one child, and some are present in children who do not have sensory integrative disorders.

  • Generally appear to be developing in a typical way but have trouble learning to read or do math?
  • Seek and/or tolerate movement activities such as swinging, running, jumping and not seem to get dizzy as readily as others?
  • Fall more frequently than others his age and sometimes make ineffective or no attempt to catch himself?
  • Feel heavy, like a sack of potatoes, when you try to help him to get into position or help him to keep his balance?
  • Seem to have trouble sitting upright or tend to slouch when at a table or desk?
  • Have poorly established “handedness” after 6 years of age?
  • Get right and left or up and down confused?
  • Avoid crossing the midline of his body, for example, by turning his whole body rather than reaching across the center of his body?
  • Have trouble with smoothness of movement and/or rhythm?

If these signs/symptoms affect your child’s everyday function, it is important to seek out an Occupational Therapist that specializes in sensory integration therapy for treatment. But there are things you can do at home to help.

Tips for Parents

  • Movement experiences are very important for the developing child. Be sure to make time for activities such as swinging, sliding, jumping, and other active movement experiences every day
  • Encourage active, child-propelled movements rather than passive movement.
  • Try having your child do some activities, such as reading, playing a game, or coloring, while lying on his stomach and propping himself up on his elbows.
  • Encourage activities that require balance, such as skating, bike riding, kicking and so on.
  • Include “bilateral” or two-sided activities, such as jumping rope, swimming, rowing, playing a musical instrument, sewing, and so on.
  • Try activities that involve coordination of movement of the eyes, head, and hands, such as target games, catching, throwing, ping pong, tennis and so on.

Your therapist will be able to provide you more specific activities that are appropriate for your child.

**Excerpts taken from the book, “Sensory Integration and the Child,” by A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D.

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