The vestibular sense is small structures located in our inner ears which 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. In this blog, NAPA pediatric occupational therapist Elena explains everything you need to know about the vestibular sense, vestibular input, and even shares some vestibular activities used in occupational therapy!
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.
Pediatric occupational therapy and physical therapy help children with vestibular processing by helping them to 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.
Simply put, the vestibular senses are related to gravity and movement whereas proprioceptive senses are related to position and movement of muscles and joints.
Under-responsiveness to vestibular input is characterized by being clumsy, ability to spin without feeling dizzy, difficulty with bilateral integration tasks, and poor posture. Children who are under-responsive may be referred to as “vestibular sensory seekers” as they 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, known as vestibular seeking behaviors.
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.
Listed below are our favorite occupational therapist-approved vestibular input activities to help your toddler or child.
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.
At NAPA, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. Our trained occupational therapists specialize in vestibular therapy for children. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals.