The vestibular system is made up of fluid filled organs that are located in the inner ear. It is one of the essential components of balance and helps provide us information about our body’s movement. The vestibular system responds to gravitational pull in order to send signals to our brain about the direction and speed at which we are moving. It is also responsible for allowing us to stabilize our eyes during movement and helps us maintain our head in an upright position.
A properly working vestibular system is essential for all activities! Some essential tasks the vestibular system helps your child complete include: scanning words in a book to read, following a ball as it travels towards them through air, maintaining their balance during playtime activities, and maintaining an upright posture.
If a child’s vestibular system is not properly functioning, they may be under or over reactive to movement input. If your child has an under reactive vestibular system, they may constantly attempt to seek out vestibular input-such as enjoying spinning in fast circles, swinging, or running fast and crashing down. They may also appear more unbalanced or “clumsy.” Over reactive signs may include being more sedentary, fearful of fast movements, or being overly sensitive to fast or sudden movements.
Some additional common signs and symptoms of inadequate vestibular function include: dizziness, unsteadiness, vertigo, and trouble reading or reporting dizziness when reading, occasional stumbling/falls, or reports of the room spinning around them.
Even a fully developed and normally functioning vestibular system can be impacted by traumatic events. For example, vestibular dysfunction is often seen following concussion. The vestibular system, does; however, have great potential for rehabilitation. Specific treatment techniques have been shown to re-train and enhance vestibular function.
There are many ways to help activate and develop your child’s vestibular system-and many of these activities you may already be doing on a daily basis. Going to the park provides endless opportunities for vestibular system stimulation, including swings, slides, ball play, monkey bars, and running! Spinning and jumping activities are also very stimulating for the vestibular system.