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vestibular sensory system

Vestibular sensory system

THE VESTIBULAR SYSTEM

Definition:

¨       The vestibular system is the most sensitive and one of the most important sense organs. It is stimulated by movement of fluid in the structures of the inner ear, in response to movement by the head.

¨       The vestibular system provides us with information about where our body is in space and whether the movement is up, down, fast, slow or angular.

¨       Even when our eyes are closed we know the position of our head. The vestibular system also allows us to keep our balance with our eyes closed.

 

Why is the processing of vestibular information important?

¨       Input to the vestibular system is important for regulating muscle tone, joint stability, bilateral integration, spatial awareness, eye movements and balance and equilibrium mechanisms. These all affect our ability to maintain good sitting posture i.e. at a desk.

¨       Good postural stability serves as a basis for fine motor control (i.e. handwriting).

¨       The vestibular system sends information to the part of the brain that regulates attention and arousal levels. It also provides a calming effect (i.e. gentle rocking)

¨       The vestibular system ‘talks’ to every other system and is closely linked to the proprioceptive system.

 

Functional Implications:

Over-responsive vestibular system: (i.e. The child who perceives too much movement information)

¨       Gravitational insecurity: excessive fear of falling / of heights / and of feet leaving the ground

¨       Overly frightened by movement / dislikes playground activities

¨       Difficulty mastering environmental obstacles such as stairs or uneven terrain

¨       Intolerance or adverse reactions to movement, motion sickness, nausea, giddiness

Under-responsive vestibular system: (i.e. The child who is not processing enough movement information)

¨       Craves movement, swinging, rocking

¨       Moves excessively, using momentum to compensate for poor balance reactions

¨       Does not get dizzy until they have had an enormous amount of movement

¨       Poor bilateral integration and co-ordination

 

Activity suggestions to Help Improve Vestibular Processing:

1.     Swinging / rolling / rocking / swaying (the best effects are gained when these activities are self activated, i.e. let the child swing / spin him/herself)

2.     Jumping on a trampoline (with supervision)

3.     Balancing on a balance beam or line on the ground

4.     Rolling across the floor, over a variety of textures and objects / in a blanket or towel. Then try with eyes closed

5.     Sledding or rolling down a hill

6.     Spinning around a post / in a chair

7.     Sit ‘n’ spin / pogo stick

8.     Playground activities: see saws, swings, slides, merry go rounds

9.     Bilateral activities: jump rope, swimming, skipping, riding a bike, star jumps, stilts etc.

10.   Movement activities: e.g. Exercises, keep fit, martial arts, dancing

11.   Walking over uneven surfaces

 

WARNING: Encourage the child to choose spinning activities to do independently. Too much swinging / spinning can have a negative effect on the child. Watch carefully for signs of dizziness, nausea, changes in breathing etc. Stop when the child asks to stop the activity. Never swing / spin the child excessively.