The vestibular sense, or vestibular sensory system, are small structures located in our inner ears and provide information to our brain about the position of our head, motion, and works with other sensory systems to tell us where our body is in space.
When the vestibular system works correctly, the constant presence of gravity allows all our other sensory systems to work cohesively. The vestibular system contributes to our ability to balance, maintain an upright posture, and stabilize the head and body when moving. It has no effect on muscle strength which is also needed for postural control. Occupational and physical therapy help children integrate vestibular input in order to successfully navigate and engage in their environment.
Symptoms of vestibular processing difficulties include vertigo, oscillopsia or gaze instability, diminished balance, and delayed gross motor milestones. Along with these symptoms, children may be under- or over-responsive to vestibular input.
Under-responsiveness is characterized by being clumsy, ability to spin without feeling dizzy, difficulty with bilateral tasks, and poor posture. Children who are under-responsive need more input than average in order to feel the effects on their bodies. This means that they often seek vestibular input through crashing or falling, swinging, spinning, and other movement-based activities.
Over-responsiveness is characterized by gravitational insecurity, which is the fear of swinging and spinning, as well as going on elevators or escalators. Children with gravitational insecurity perceive gravity more intensely and become anxious with small movements such as leaning back and stepping off stairs.
Elena Falcy is a pediatric occupational therapist candidate at NAPA Center. She loves cold days when she can wrap up in a blanket and engage in one of her favorite hobbies, cross-stitching. One of her goals in life is to visit every national park in the United States.