In case you missed the first part of this series, be sure to read up on What is Sensory Processing?
What is Vestibular Processing?
Vestibular processing is how our bodies interpret movement, whether or not you’re moving, how quickly, and then in what direction you’re moving in. In simpler terms, our vestibular system controls our balance and equilibrium. Vestibular receptors live within the inner ear canal. When movement is sensed, signals are sent to the eyes and muscles in an effort to keep the body upright. Therefore, the vestibular system is highly linked with both the auditory and visual systems.
Children who are over-responsive to vestibular input tend to dislike playground equipment like swings or merry-go-rounds as these activities often disrupt a person’s equilibrium. Vestibular sensitivities can look like avoiding games that require movement or being fearful of their feet leaving the ground. Over-responsiveness to vestibular input frequently results in motion-sickness. SPD Australia notes that “dysfunctions in the vestibular system can cause anxiety, nausea, a need for self-stimulation, abnormalities in muscle tone, academic problems, etc.” As we previously mentioned, our equilibrium is connected to the visual sensory system, so activities like high-speed video games or watching home videos can trigger a negative vestibular reaction like motion sickness.
Contrary to over-responders, being under-responsive to vestibular input can be identified as kids who love engaging in play with LOTS of movement. You might notice vestibular sensory seekers often moving or spinning and never getting dizzy. They may seem to take on more risks during play, like flipping on swings or hanging upside-down on the monkey bars. Clumsiness is common among kiddos who are under-responsive to vestibular inputs because their vestibular sensitivity may affect their eye-coordination.
Strategies for Over-responsive
- Take it slow on new movement activities
- Start with back and forth movements
- Allow child to mount and dismount swings or climbing structures on their own
- Perform the activity alongside or with your child
Strategies for Under-responsive
- Chose high intensity activities that have lots fo changes in speed and direction of movement
- Use an OT hammock at home
- Try bouncing on an exercise ball
- Find activities that stimulate both vestibular and other senses simultaneously
Stay tuned for our final sensory processing blog article which will be discussing Interoceptive sensory processing.
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To learn more about Sensory Processing, watch the recorded MeBe Learning Webinar, All About Sensory Processing.