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Understanding the Vestibular Sense and Vestibular Input

May 15th, 2022 | by Elena Falcy

Elena Falcy

May 15th, 2022

What is the Vestibular Sense?

The vestibular sense is small structures located in our inner ears which provide information to our brain about the position of our head, motion, and works with other sensory systems to tell us where our body is in space. In this blog, NAPA paediatric occupational therapist Elena explains everything you need to know about the vestibular sense, vestibular input, and even shares some vestibular activities used in occupational therapy!

The Importance of Vestibular Input

When the vestibular system works correctly, the constant presence of gravity allows all our other sensory systems to work cohesively. The vestibular system contributes to our ability to balance, maintain an upright posture, and stabilize the head and body when moving. It has no effect on muscle strength which is also needed for postural control.

Vestibular Therapy: Helping Children With Vestibular Processing

During vestibular therapy, pediatric occupational therapists and physical therapists help children with vestibular processing by helping them to integrate vestibular input in order to successfully navigate and engage in their environment.

Paediatric occupational therapy and physiotherapy help children with vestibular processing by helping them to integrate vestibular input in order to successfully navigate and engage in their environment. Symptoms of vestibular processing difficulties include vertigo, oscillopsia or gaze instability, diminished balance, and delayed gross motor milestones. Along with these symptoms, children may be under- or over-responsive to vestibular input.

Vestibular vs. Proprioception

Simply put, the vestibular senses are related to gravity and movement whereas proprioceptive senses are related to position and movement of muscles and joints.

Under-Responsive Vestibular System Causes Sensory Seeking Behaviors

Under-responsiveness to vestibular input is characterized by being clumsy, ability to spin without feeling dizzy, difficulty with bilateral integration tasks, and poor posture. Children who are under-responsive may be referred to as “vestibular sensory seekers” as they  need more input than average in order to feel the effects on their bodies. This means that they often seek vestibular input through crashing or falling, swinging, spinning, and other movement-based activities, known as vestibular seeking behaviors.

Over-Responsive Vestibular System

Over-responsiveness is characterized by gravitational insecurity, which is the fear of swinging and spinning, as well as going on elevators or escalators. Children with gravitational insecurity perceive gravity more intensely and become anxious with small movements such as leaning back and stepping off stairs. 

Vestibular Activities Recommended by an Occupational Therapist

Listed below are our favorite occupational therapist-approved vestibular input activities to help your toddler or child.

Vestibular Sensory Activities for Children Who Are Under-Responsive

Vestibular input activities include: riding a bike, jumping on the trampoline, and swinging. Find more activities for your vestibular sensory seekers in this blog post!
For our vestibular sensory seekers:
    1. Have your child propel themselves on a swing 
    2. Use the trampoline for vestibular system: Encourage your child to jump on a trampoline 
    3. Have your child engage in activities to incorporate balance and movement such as riding a bike 
    4. Try some activities that incorporate bilateral movements such as jumping jacks or jump rope 
    5. Use a scooter board while lying on their stomach to propel themselves (but make sure the area is clear of any hazards that they may knock into) 

Vestibular Activities for Children Who Are Over-Responsive

    1. Allow your child to sit in your lap while swinging 
    2. When swinging, allow your child’s feet to touch the ground 
    3. Have your child sit on a yoga ball and help them bounce while their feet remain on the ground 
    4. If you have a large trampoline, have your child sit while you gently bounce on the trampoline 
    5. Use a weighted backpack when engaging in activities that normally elicit an anxiety response such as stepping off a curb (only use up to 5 – 10% of your child’s body weight) 

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog

About the Author 

Elena Falcy is a paediatric occupational therapist candidate at NAPA Centre. She loves cold days when she can wrap up in a blanket and engage in one of her favorite hobbies, cross-stitching. One of her goals in life is to visit every national park in the United States. 


About NAPA Centre

At NAPA, we take an individualised approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. Our trained occupational therapists specialize in vestibular therapy for children. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customised program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals.

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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