Sensory Processing can be complex to explain. Very simply, it is the way we take in, process and have a response to stimuli in our every day life. Many parents, educators and caregivers have questions about the kiddos who are clumsy and uncoordinated or who avoid movement and seem fearful. This may be due to the way their VESTIBULAR system responses. Vestibular input is just a fancy term to describe your movement sense. It is located in your inner ear and sends messages to your brain about where you are in space. This system affects vision, gravity, balance, orientation in space, posture and muscle tone.
The vestibular system has 3 canals:
Horizontal - detects rotations around vertical axis like spins when ice skating
Anterior - forward and backward movement like nodding
Posterior - frontal plane movement like cartwheeling
A healthy vestibular system is central to the integration of the other sensory systems. When a child’s vestibular system is not functioning correctly, he may be under responsive or overly sensitive to movement. He may either need to move constantly to feel satisfied or he may be fearful of movement because it makes him feel insecure and unbalanced. He may move in an uncoordinated, clumsy manner, bumping into things, falling, and never fully walking or sitting in an upright manner. This is the child that slouches at his desk or is constantly being directed to “stand up straight” or “quit leaning on the wall!” He may appear weak or “floppy.”
As a result, he might have difficulty coordinating and planning motor tasks such as jumping jacks, skipping, catching a ball with two hands, or reaching across the center of his body (crossing midline), or even coordinating movements of the mouth, resulting in difficulty with speech production.
For a parent, caregiver or educator to have a better sense of what sensory information their child may need, you may want to consult with a pediatric occupational therapist to get more customized information.
Some activities to help improve vestibular function may include:
*Spinning - Make sure you balance the body and spin equal times to the right and left sides
*Upside down - head stands are perfect!
*Merry go round or an office chair work!
*Swinging- Go to the playground or your backyard play structure
*Tumbling/Rolling - forward rolls and log rolls
*Jumping on a trampoline, the bed or off an elevated surface
*Balancing by walking on a curb or finding materials that are narrow to make a balance beam
Jill Loftus, MS, OTR/L is a practicing pediatric occupational therapist focused on enabling and empowering children and families. Jill is teaching a 6 week workshop for preschool-age children starting this Thursday, July 7 at The Family Room. She will also be subbing for Patience Bleskan for all play groups the week of July 11!