The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, gives us information about how our head is oriented in space and is essential for balance. The vestibular system is closely linked to the visual system and postural control. Some children experience challenges related to the development of this system, and it may reflect in their poor balance, frequent movement-seeking behaviors, or reluctance to participate in activities that involve positional changes. Input to the vestibular system is often organizing, and effects of stimulation can last for up to eight hours!

 

Occupational therapists provide interventions that develop the vestibular system to help children fully participate in movement activities, whether they:

 

Seek vestibular input- These children love to spin, swing, and be on the move.

 

Have postural control challenges- Postural challenges are indicated by frequent leaning, falling out of a chair, or a child resting their body on a table surface.
Are over-responsive to vestibular input- Children in this category may be fearful of swinging, get carsick, and dislike climbing stairs.

 

Have perceptual challenges- Children who often appear uncoordinated or have trouble timing the movement of their body to music (such as during circle-time songs) may fall into this category.

 

Since there are a variety of dysfunctions possible within the vestibular system, it is best to get an occupational therapy evaluation when there are concerns. This system can be easily overloaded for over-responsive children, resulting in nausea for a prolonged period. Occupational therapists provide services and ideas for carryover in various settings so that children can be exposed to activities both in and outside of the school or clinic setting.

 

The Playground

 

Playgrounds have built-in structures that are perfect for getting vestibular input. Slides provide an opportunity for children to both climb and descend in a smooth movement. Many play areas have various swing choices, giving children a chance to sit or lay down (as in a tire swing). Both spinning for a short amount of time and pushing back and forth can provide organizing input. Monkey bars work well for both climbing and hanging upside-down- an impactful way to change the position of the head.

 

At Home

 

Are you thinking it may be challenging to carry over vestibular work at home? Try this! Allow your child to sit on the couch and then hang their upper body upside-down off of it. It gives the same impact as hanging off of monkey bars and may even be more accessible to little ones who are not fond of heights. If you have an office chair on wheels, let your child explore spinning on it. Be sure to allow them to turn themselves so that they remain in control.

 

Outside

 

Children naturally work on developing their vestibular system in outdoor spaces. Climbing up rocks or hills, log-rolling down a grassy hill, or practicing somersaults or cartwheels can all be done without special equipment. Jump-roping, riding a bicycle, and rocking on a porch swing, are also organizing activities children can do outside.

 

The Gym or OT Clinic

 

OT clinics have special tools that can target a child’s specific vestibular system needs and build skills in other identified areas of need at the same time. In these spaces, you’ll often find climbing equipment, scooter boards, balance beams, a variety of different swings, spinning boards, and more.

Any questions? Give us a call!

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