Vestibular kids are the ones who benefit greatly from the expertise of an effective certified trainer. They are the kids who are initially and probably not the most coordinated but with coaching can become an energetic part of a team. These are the youngsters who are in constant motion because they must be moving at all times, to the point that it interferes with their daily life. These are the kids who are constantly fidgeting, can’t stay seated, are rolling around and jumping on the sofa, and like to constantly be touching things, rocking, spinning, and other types of stimming. They may not even be aware that they’re doing it and are viewed as thrill seekers as well as experiencing trouble with staying in their personal space.
These kids also have the curse of not always knowing when they bump into people, and what looks purposeful may be a need to feel their environment or a pure accident of getting into others’ space. They initially can have poor coordination or body space but are extremely energetic and ready to learn.
They are the kids who benefit from positions where they use their bodies with slow twitch muscles over a long period of time. The vestibular system operates through receptors in the inner ear and in conjunction with a position in space, input from the eyes, and feedback from muscle and joint receptors. It is able to contribute to posture and appropriate response of the visual system to maintain a field of vision. These receptors are actually hair cells that are found in two structures in the inner ear. Receptors on the Otolith organs respond to linear movement, gravity, and head tilt. Receptors on the semicircular canals respond to angular movement of the head and quick movement changes. These receptors provide information to the central nervous system about the body’s position in space and project information to several areas. Information received in the cerebellum is used to control posture, eye, and head movements. Oculomotor movement is information received there and helps to correct the eyes with head and body movements. Spinal cord information received there helps with muscle tone and postural adjustments. In the Thalamus and cortex are information received that helps with the perception of motion and spatial orientation as well as integrating somatosensory information. A lot of kids with additional sensory needs like those with autism, ADHD, and SPD display vestibular seeking behavior.
Children with Vestibular difficulties often display:
- Difficulty sitting still (very wiggly)
- Poor handwriting
- Poor core strength (hard time sitting with good posture)
- Poor balance
- Poor motor planning (figuring out how to move the body in a new way such as riding a bike for the first time)
- Difficulty problem solving
- Poor organizational skills
- Poor attention
- Always moving, running
Vestibular Input Activities
There are things you can implement that parents and teachers can give their students who seek vestibular input activities.
- Spin your child around in an office chair.
- Play Ring Around the Rosie.
- Roll down a big grassy hill.
- For toddlers: the Sit ‘n’Spin
- Balance Board
- Get your child to lay on their belly on a swing, twist it up, and then let it go.
- Hang upside down on a tall chair or sofa.
- These children benefit from beginning tumbling or dancing class, dance, dance revolution, or dance DVDs, and freeze dance.
- Put shoe boxes, paper plates, or paper towels on your feet and go “skating” around the house.
- Play Simon says.
- Push your child around on a scooter board.
- Jump on a mini-trampoline.
- Make a tire swing for your yard, or get an indoor swing.
- Make an indoor obstacle course–– use furniture, make lines with some tape they must walk on, or tape across doorways to crawl under, etc.
- Jump rope
- Blow bubbles outside and have your kids run around trying to pop them.
- Play a game of tag.
- Bounce on a stability ball.
- Inflatable wobble seat that has both smooth and bumpy sides.
- Riding a see-saw.
- Rocking in a rocking chair or wobble seat.
- Get your child a rocking chair.
- Wheel-barrow walking
- Standing upside down with feet up against a wall
- Walking on a suspended bridge
- Sliding down slides
- Bouncing on a large ball
- Logrolling (across the floor or down a hill)
- Jumping (try on a couch, bed, bouncy house, or trampoline for more intense input)
- Riding a bike/scooter
- Riding rollerblades/roller skates
- Riding push toys/bikes/scooters down a hill
- Riding a “little coaster”
- Playing Twister
- Sled riding
- Singing and hand motions for “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
- Using a sit and spin
- Standing or a balance board
- Sitting in a cone spinner.
- An obstacle course that requires jumping, crawling, rolling, etc.
- Simon Says
- Follow the Leader
- Balance beams are perfect to address needs in the vestibular system. Our body’s ability to regulate the position in space helps us to manage obstacles in our path without losing balance. The vestibular system allows us to move in space without falling or without making us think we will fall (gravitational insecurity). Balance beams challenge the vestibular system with variances in difficulty. The great thing about this snowflake balance beam is that you can adjust the size and provide many, many alternate activities to work on coordination, listening, motor planning, direction following, and attention.
Agility Ladders are also great to use.
Some of the activities include:
- Walking on tiptoes or heel toes
- Hopping on one foot
- Walking sideways
- Walking backward
- Walking with feet and hands. Encourage direction-following and listening skills by calling out different ways to walk along the snowflake balance beam.
- Toss a ball to your child as they are on the balance beam.
- Ask your child to change directions as they walk along the beam.
- Have the child look up at the wall and not down at their feet as they walk.
Vestibular is all about balance and movement. All children require this movement and input for proper development. Vestibular input is incredibly powerful and can have amazing or surprising effects. Vestibular processing is nearly always at work in everything we do, arguably more than any other sensory system. Vestibular activities, when used correctly, have the ability to calm and soothe a child, as well as improve many aspects of development like coordination, handwriting, attention, and even reading!
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