The vestibular system is the sensory system that provides the leading contribution to the sense of balance and spatial orientation for the purpose of coordinating movement with balance. The vestibular system works with the cochlea, part of the auditory system, when processing rotational movements. The vestibular system sends signals primarily to the neural structures that control eye movements, and to the muscles that keep a person upright and in general control posture.
The brain uses information from the vestibular system to understand where the body is in space, or proprioception. The vestibular-ocular-reflex works to maintain eye movements when the body is tilted or moved. You can see how the vestibular, auditory, and visual systems are intertwined. If the vestibular system is under-developed, areas of vision and hearing will be affected as well.
Researchers have observed significant gains in attention and reading from stimulating the vestibular system through swinging, rolling, jumping, spinning, rocking, tumbling, etc. The vestibular system affects behavior, social interactions, speech, and communication with our world.
Signs your child may have an underdeveloped Vestibular System:
- Constantly moving in a rhythmic motion (rocking, spinning, pacing)
- Problems paying attention
- Difficulty filtering out background sounds
- Difficulty riding a bike, walking a balance beam
- Cannot sit still in seat – constantly fidgeting and moving
- Loses place while reading often
- Difficulty processing auditory information
NOTE: the vestibular system is the foundation for the eyes processing information. If your child has issues with vision, they may have an underdeveloped vestibular system as the root cause.
Testing your child for an underdeveloped vestibular system:
Equipment needed: Office chair
Have your child sit in the office chair with their feet off the ground and head straight or forward (not relaxed back). Spin them briskly (2 seconds per revolution) 12 times in one direction. When you stop have them immediately look toward the ceiling and watch their eye movements. In normal development, the eyes will quickly move side-to-side (nystagmus) for approx 15 seconds. In an underdeveloped vestibular system, the eyes will move side-to-side less than 15 seconds.
What’s next? If you suspect your child may have an underdeveloped nervous system or vestibular system try adding in some specific vestibular stimulation throughout the day. You will want to work with your practitioner to help guide you, or join our Primitive Reflex Program for best results. Here are some examples:
- stand and spin in place
- do a somersault or rock in a ball
- use a swing and tip your head backwards
- jump on a trampoline
- log rolls
- bounce on an exercise ball
You do have to be careful with vestibular stimulation because too much can cause negative reactions. This is where working with a practitioner will be helpful. Start slow, change directions, and give extra time between stimulation (at least 5 minutes) in order not to over-stimulate the system.