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The Vestibular System: a Tutorial

We are all familiar with the five basic senses through which we explore our environment – but did you know that we have an additional special sense known as the vestibular system?

This complex system is located in the inner ear and consists of gravity receptors that detect linear (such as running straight or swinging back and forth) and rotary (spinning) movements.

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The vestibular system allows us to know where our bodies are in relation to space.  It causes us to keep our balance and make sure that we are safe in our environment.  This system plays a very important role in terms of organizing which sensory input is and is not important in order to have an optimal level of focus and attention.

 

Signs of difficulty processing vestibular information 

Does your child:

  • Generally appear to be developing in a typical way but have trouble learning to read or do mathematics?
  • Seek and/or tolerate movement activities such as swinging, running, and jumping and not seem to get dizzy as easily as others? 
  • Have difficulty performing in some aspects of sports?
  • Seem to have trouble sitting upright, or tend to slouch when at a table or desk?

 

Ideas to help promote vestibular development

Here are some ways you can help support your child’s vestibular development:

  • Teach your child to push/pull themselves on the swing.
  • Support activities that require balance (i.e. gymnastics, skating, biking, riding a scooter).
  • Encourage your child to participate in jumping activities (i.e. learn to jump rope,  bounce on a therapy ball, jump on a trampoline).

 

Getting vestibular input is very important for a child’s development.  If you have concerns about your child’s vestibular development, please contact us for an appointment with one of our occupational therapists.

 

Reference

Ayres, A.J. (2005). Sensory integration and the child: Understanding hidden sensory challenges. Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.