Sensory Processing Disorder: Vestibular Dysfunction
If proprioception is your 6th sense, then the vestibular system is the 7th sense. The vestibular system is how we negotiate balance. It is the intricate system that includes the feedback loop between the inner ear and the brain. If you’ve ever experienced vertigo or dizziness, you understand how it feels to have vestibular problems. Motion sickness is also a symptom of the vestibular system functioning incorrectly. Vestibular system is a behind the scenes sense that can absolutely make your life miserable if it isn’t functioning correctly.
Hypersensitive Vestibular System
A person with a hypersensitive vestibular system processes sensory input in a more magnified way. The sensation they feel when processing vestibular input is uncomfortable so they tend to avoid situations where they might experience this sort of input. A person who is hypersensitive to vestibular input might be afraid of heights, avoid twirling (especially merry go rounds or swings), and may intensely dislike escalators. They might also strongly dislike tipping their head over or getting flipped upside down. Travel might be difficult for them because they might experience motion sickness.
Someone who is less sensitive processing vestibular input may experience this type of input in a less prominent way than the average person. Their brain doesn’t register the twists and turns in such a strong way. They tend to seek out movement that gives them the vestibular input they need. Some people will seek out twirling by twisting and turning without developing the sense of dizziness. They might love amusement park rides, is constantly jumping or hopping around. Also, they love being thrown in the air, swinging high up on swings, or jumping off of furniture.
If you suspect that your child is experiencing any symptoms related to sensory processing disorder, you should contact an OT who can evaluate them. You can find a referral to an OT in your area by visiting the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation’s web site: http://www.spdfoundation.net
Activities that help improve vestibular dysfunction
- Try slow swinging activities. OT’s often have low, wide swings with wide bases that make swinging a low risk activity. Even so, take swinging activities slow. If you child isn’t going to an OT yet, try swinging for short periods of time at the park.
- Try rolling your child on a therapy ball. Make sure you are holding your child firmly, then carefully roll them around on the therapy ball for a few seconds so that they can get the sensation of getting their feet off the ground.
- Take your child to an amusement park and slowly work your way up to riding on one of the rides. Make it a fun time and encourage them to go on more as they are ready.
- Make an obstacle course where you’re required to jump, hop and duck under things. This gives the child chance to use their vestibular system while having fun.
- Play a balance game like twister. Fun and also requires use of the vestibular system to balance on the dots.
- Ride a bike: Riding a bike is good for helping almost all of the senses, especially vestibular and proprioceptive. Balance can really be a struggle for lots of kids. Giving opportunities to have fun and practice using the vestibular system is important.
- Sit n Spin: Gives kids a chance to sit and twirl around. Great fun. Let them twirl as much as they are comfortable with. Click on the following link to visit the amazon site:
- Hopping ball: requires balance and motion to control this thing. It is fun and gives vestibular input.
What are your favorite ways to improve vestibular functioning?