Updated: Jul 2, 2020
All movement is processed through our wonderful vestibular system, located inside our inner ear. Our vestibular system! It lets us know if we are moving forward, backward, side to side, rotating or if our head is inverted?
Our vestibular system has many roles to play throughout our body and that is why it is such an important system to understand. Ultimately, a sound vestibular system is responsible for making us feel regulated, alert and ready for learning and it is because of our vestibular system that everything works automatically (without any thought).
Some of its functions:
As mentioned, our vestibular system is responsible for making us feel alert, engaged and ready for learning. It ultimately controls our level of arousal (am I too alert that I am bouncing all over the show? Or am I so drowsy, I can take nothing in?).
It is through our vestibular system that we develop a sense of balance and spatial orientation (knowing where our body is in space). In addition, messages are sent from the vestibular system to our muscles to control our posture, and keep us upright! This system enables us to move confidently and fluidly.
Constantly, messages are being sent through our vestibular system, to control our eye muscles. This helps us with smooth eye movements and tracking, but it is also why we can still read while moving e.g. read our phones or road signs while in a car. This foundational system is one of the first to develop in utero, and controls much of our regulation and levels of alertness.
With a poorly developed vestibular system, your child may be sensitive to movement, or alternatively, constantly be seeking movement!
Here are a few red flags to determine if your child is sensitive / overly seeking of movement:
- Doesn’t enjoy climbing, sliding or certain swings on the play ground.
- Poorly developed gross motor co-ordination, appears clumsy.
- Is fearful or becomes anxious during movement activities, such as being upside down/ on climbing frames
- May suffer from motion sickness.
- Appears slouched and may have low muscle tone.
- Poor perception of their body in space.
- Constantly on the go and struggles to settle down.
- Loves to fidget.
- May enjoy spinning and doesn’t seem to get dizzy.
- Overly alert, struggles to settle.
- Enjoys being upside down.
If you notice that your child may be sensitive or overly seeking of movement, an Occupational Therapist can assist you in integrating your child’s vestibular system. Your child would then feel more organized, enjoy being in the calm-alert state, have better control over their body, and have improved concentration.