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The Vestibular System

“And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparking “ -Shanti

By Yi Chen, DPT

Have you ever wondered why children always like going on the swing, slide or seesaw in the playground? Have you thought about how children spend hours jumping on the trampoline? The answer to these questions has to do with one of our sensory systems: the vestibular system.  The vestibular system helps regulate balance and movement.

 

 

The vestibular system provides information to the brain about movement and changing positions.  It works through receptors within the ears. As the head moves in space, there is fluid that moves inside the ear. When this fluid moves, there are tiny hair cells that move in response. These hair cells detect changes in gravity and different types of movement in the environment. A child with a healthy vestibular system feels safe to move at different speeds and is comfortable with body movements in various directions. These changes in movement naturally occur during activities such as jumping, swinging and climbing.

 

 

When a child’s vestibular system is not functioning well, that child may either be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to movements. A child who is hypersensitive to movement usually overreacts to movement and is fearful with any changes in position; on the other hand, a child who is hyposensitive to movement usually craves movement and has a difficult time sitting still.

 

 

 

Daily activities that might be difficult for your child with vestibular dysfunction:

 

 

 

  1. Difficulty with stair climbing

  2. Difficulty with riding bikes

  3. Bumping into things

  4. Unable to walk or sit in an upright position

  5. Difficulty with body coordination

  6. Appear to always be climbing, jumping, rocking, rolling, spinning, etc

  7. Poor safety awareness and often falls

  8. Difficulty with tasks that requires eyes to move to different directions (e.g. reading, copying information from the blackboard)

 

 

Daily activities that may help to organize your child’s vestibular system:

 

 

  1. Slides

  2. Swing

  3. Hanging upside down from playground equipment

  4. Rocking on the chair with rhythm

  5. Playing with Sit and Spin toy

  6. Doing summersaults or cartwheels

  7. Merry-go-round

  8. Jumping on a trampoline/hopscotch / jump rope

 

Connor McCarthy