Vestibular stimulation can have a significant impact on the nervous system. Vestibular sensations also help the nervous system to stay organized and balanced. Quick and fast movements tend to be alerting, and slow movements tend to be calming. An occupational therapist suggests sensory diet activities, after doing a sensory profile. A Sensory diet should be followed under the supervision of the therapist for some early days.
But, before we go further, let’s know about the basics of the vestibular system and its importance-
What is the vestibular system?
The vestibular system provides information about movement and gravity. The sense also tells about the body motion, it’s direction and speed.
Ayres suggested that the vestibular system has a critical role in the modulation of all other sensory systems.
The vestibular receptors are located in the inner ear (semicircular canal). They sense the changes in the gravity and movement.
Some kids experience difficulty in processing information from the vestibular system. These children can be hypo or hyper responsive to vestibular sensations or mixed sensitivities.
- Gravitational Insecurities-
The children who are hyperresponsive to the vestibular sense are fearful with any changes in gravity and position.
They do not prefer to stand on the heighted place or moving surface.
These situations can trigger a sensory defensive response and activate “fright, flight or fight” reaction.
Due to the hyper responsive reaction to movement have a negative effect on development. This prevents physical exploration of the environment may cause fine and motor delayed.
- Vestibular Hyposensitity-
At the opposite end, this type of child needs movement. This type of child is always on the go and does not seem able to sit still.
Their nervous system may require an excessive amount of movement to stay alert and organized. They have difficulty staying in one place.
Slow rocking, linear motion, rhythmic movements have a calming effect on the nervous system and can decrease hyper-reactive responses to sensory input.
Due to vestibular dysfunction, these problems may arise –
- Inconsistent response to sensory input.
- Emotional instability.
- Inappropriate arousal/ alertness level.
- Difficulty maintaining and shifting attention.
- Avoids playground equipment that involves movement
- Avoids activities that require balance
- Fearful of ascending/descending stairs
- Avoids feet leaving the ground/uncomfortable in elevators.
Important Points to Consider in Regards to Vestibular Over-Registration
- Respect the signs of vestibular distress. STOP means STOP.
- A child needs to know that you can be trusted and that you will honor the need to stop a new movement activity.
- Even one minute of vestibular input can be beneficial to sensory processing. More is not necessarily better unless the child’s nervous system is ready.
- On the other hand, even one minute too much of vestibular input can cause hours of dysregulation for the child.
- Fifteen minutes of vestibular input can have a 6-8 hour effect on the brain, positive or negative, depending on how the brain processed the information.
- Vestibular input can be calming or alerting depending on the speed, duration, and intensity of the movement.
- A child may be swinging and appearing to enjoy it, and at any given moment may need to stop due to the powerful input to the brain.
Sensory Vestibular Activities-
The below mentioned activities may be helpful to control the vestibular dysfunction. These activities are used in sensory integration therapy by the occupational therapist.
Alerting vestibular activities-
- Bouncing – mini trampoline, therapy ball
- Swinging – hammock, swing.
- Spinning – on swivel chair, scooter board, sit and spin.
- Rocking – Rocking chair, rocking toy horse.
- Climbing – ladders, climbing furniture.
- Upside down – trapeze, monkey bars.
- Outdoor games – hockey, football, ball catching.
- Slides, roller coaster.
Calming Vestibular Activities-
Slow, rhythmic, linear swinging or rocking. Gentle slow spinning in one direction. Gentle bouncing.
Equipment’s needed for vestibular activities-
These are the common equipment used by the occupational therapist in vestibular dysfunction or in vestibular sensory processing disorder.
- Swing chair,
- Therapy balls,
- Scooter board, and
- Smith, Sinclair A., et al. “Effects of sensory integration intervention on self-stimulating and self-injurious behaviors.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 59.4 (2005): 418-425.
- Yack, Ellen, Shirley Sutton, and Paula Aquilla. Building bridges through sensory integration. Future Horizons, 2003.
- Kranowitz, Carol Stock. The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder. Penguin, 2005.
- Larkey, Sue. Practical sensory programmes for students with autism spectrum disorders. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007.