Vestibular input – Practical strategies
The vestibular system is a sensory system that is responsible for providing our brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation; it also is involved with motor functions that allow us to keep our balance, stabilize our head and body during movement, and maintain posture. Thus, the vestibular system is essential for normal movement and equilibrium.
When the brain does not receive coherent messages from the vestibular system, it wreaks havoc. Having over or under-registration in this sensory modality can look like a child that won’t move or try new things and always needs their feet on the ground to a child who takes extreme risks through their movement and can’t ever sit still.
Along with the proprioceptive system, the engaging the vestibular system in the right way, can be very calming and regulating for our kids because they so often don’t get the right information about spatial orientation from their environment. Combining proprioception with safe vestibular input, often provides longer lasting regulated states.
Discussing your child’s sensory profile with an OT is very important to begin with, because pushing a child to do activities that may be too overwhelming for them, can cause more harm than good. A child should ever be forced or coerced into sensory activities anyway and we need to read their cues very carefully to ensure our approach doesn’t break trust and create more dysregulation or even a stress response in our kids. It is important to take a child’s lead and err on the side of caution rather than becoming forceful. Leave the therapy to the professionals and as parents and teachers, we can extend invitations and offer opportunities – and leave it to the child to decide whether to engage.
Activities that will provide vestibular input (there is some overlap here with proprioception as well):
Very simple strategy to stimulate the vestibular sensory system in class is to have children do simple neck stretches together. Allowing the head to roll forward and back and from side to side, gives very comforting and soothing vestibular input. Combine that with breathing and it becomes a really efficient calming pause in the day for all kids.
See which of the above activities might be possible for you at home, given the space and equipment you have available. Think about your daily schedule and see how you can incorporate them either as a free play option, or as part of structured activity. Perhaps for schools you can suggest preferred vestibular activities and best times of day to incorporate them. Perhaps before a focused teaching session were substantial focus is required or alternative seating options at particular times of day are necessary to organise your child’s nervous system. Keep it fun and playful as you explore different types of activities. Get involved – if your child sees you getting involved and enjoying it, they are more likely to buy into new activities as well.
Take 5 minutes of special time with your child and share with them what you most appreciate about them.
Conversation starters: What challenge did you face today, for which you are grateful?
Do you suffer sometimes, want to be happy, but don’t always know how to make that happen?
Congratulations! You just discovered you have something in common with every other person across the world and across history.
You are not alone.