The vestibular system is comprised of three semicircular canals in the inner ear which detect forward to backward, side to side, and up and down movement. This system communicates with the brain to tell you where your head is in three-dimensional space and plays an important role in balance. The vestibular system influences the movements of the eye as well as the muscles of the neck and trunk to keep the head upright. For instance, your vestibular system causes reflexive movements of your eyes which allow you to turn your head from side to side and still continue reading this post.
Children (and adults) with sensory processing impairments may be over- or under-responsive to vestibular input. A child who is over-responsive may be easily carsick, avoid swings or playground equipment where both feet are off the ground, or may become upset when his or her head is tilted out of a neutral, upright position. This will hinder the child’s ability to participate in age-appropriate activities with peers, which may negatively impact social development. On the other hand, children who are under-responsive may display a strong preference for fast-moving activities like spinning, rocking, swinging, being tossed up and caught, and running. This may lead to difficulties sitting still at home or at school. In addition, as the vestibular system plays an important role in a child’s awareness of his or her body, an under-responsive system will lead to a decrease in body awareness. This can manifest as decreased safety awareness and a tendency to fall or bump into things.
Activities incorporating vestibular input are important for both under- and over-responsive children to promote participation in play. These activities include:
· Rocking in a rocking chair
· Running (and games like tag, red rover, etc)
· Riding a bike
· Riding amusement park rides
· Ice skating
· Any sports or activities involving fast movements (basketball, hockey, gymnastics, figure skating)