What does “Vestibular” mean? By Claire Heffron

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The vestibular sense has to do with balance and movement and is centered in the inner ear.  Each of us has vestibular organs located deep inside our ears. When we move our heads, the fluid in these organs moves and shifts, constantly providing us with information about the position of our heads and bodies in space (spatial awareness). This sense allows us to maintain our balance and to experience gravitational security: confidence that we can maintain a position without falling.  The vestibular system allows us to move smoothly and efficiently. It also works right alongside all of our other sensory systems, helping us use our eyes effectively and process sounds in our environment. Overall, vestibular processing helps us feel confident moving and interacting with our surroundings.

A HEALTHY VESTIBULAR SYSTEM
When our vestibular sense is fully functioning, we are secure and organized enough in our bodies to be able to attend and respond to all of the other senses we encounter daily.  A child with a well-developed vestibular sense feels confident and safe during movement activities, even if his feet are off the ground.  He is able to start and stop movement activities calmly and with control.  He is comfortable with climbing, swinging, somersaulting, and jumping – knowing that his body will adapt and that he will be able to maintain his balance and keep himself from falling or getting hurt.

PROBLEMS WITH VESTIBULAR PROCESSING
A healthy vestibular system is central to the integration of the other sensory systems.  When a child’s vestibular system is not functioning correctly, he may be under responsive or overly sensitive to movement. He may either need to move constantly to feel satisfied or he may be fearful of movement, because it makes him feel insecure and unbalanced. He may move in an uncoordinated, clumsy manner, bumping into things, falling, and never fully walking or sitting in an upright manner. This is the child that slouches at his desk or is constantly being directed to “stand up straight” or “quit leaning on the wall!”  He may appear weak or “floppy.” As a result, he might have difficulty coordinating and planning motor tasks such as jumping jacks, skipping, catching a ball with two hands, or reaching across the center of his body (crossing midline), or even coordinating movements of the mouth, resulting in difficulty with speech production.  Vision is closely related to the vestibular system. When we feel balanced and centered, our eyes can move smoothly and steadily and are able to focus, track, and discriminate between objects in our environment. Difficulty with tasks that require the eyes to move left to right (e.g. reading) or up and down repeatedly (e.g. copying information from the board) may be signs of a disrupted vestibular system.

 

Read more at:

http://theinspiredtreehouse.com/vestibular/   (Continues this article on a great blog, The Inspired Tree House).

http://lemonlimeadventures.com/vestibular-input-sensory-processing/    (An article by Dayna, a preschool educator and mother whose son has SPD, Sensory Processing Disorder, on her wonderful blog, Lemon Lime Adventures).

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