In school, we all learned that we discover our environment through the use of our 5 basic senses, but did you know that we have an additional special sense known as the vestibular system?  This complex system is located in our inner ear and consists of gravity receptors that detect linear (such as running straight or swinging back and forth) and rotary (spinning) movements.  The vestibular system allows us to know where our body is 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.

What might a child look like if they had problems processing vestibular information?  Here are a few things to look for from Jean Ayre’s Sensory Integration and the Child:

Does the 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 readily as others? 
  • Not perform especially well at some aspects of sports?
  • Seem to have trouble sitting upright, or tend to slouch when at a table or desk?

Getting vestibular input is very important in terms of a child’s development.  But you might be asking, “What are vestibular activities that our kids can engage in?”  Good question!  Check out the list below of easy suggestions:

  • Teach your child to push/pull themselves on the swing
  • Encourage activities that require balance (i.e. gymnastics, skating, biking, riding a scooter)
  • Jumping activities (i.e. learning to jump rope,  bouncing on therapy balls, jumping on trampolines)

For more information on sensory integration, please check out Sensory Integration and the Child by Jean Ayres, Ph.D.

Deborah Bae, MS, OTR/L


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