Vestibular Input: What, Why, How
Let’s talk about vestibular input. It’s more than just swinging and spinning. There’s actually 5 types of vestibular input, let’s learn about them!
What is Vestibular Input?
Wait… vestibular what?
Your vestibular system is a network of parts in your inner ear that contribute to your sense of balance and coordination. The vestibular receptors in your inner ear get activated anytime your head moves in relation to gravity.
Anytime your head tilts to the side, goes upside down, or spins, the vestibular system helps you process this information so your brain knows and your body can make a response (e.g. sit up straight, move slower, etc) if needed.
Why is Vestibular Input Important?
The vestibular system is a huge neon sign that tells our brain where our head is in space. This makes the vestibular system important for functional tasks such as:
- Maintaining balance and an upright posture
- Knowing what speed to walk through an environment or around people
- Knowing when our body is in danger of falling
- Coordinating our body to move in skilled ways (e.g. like learning an exercise or riding a bike)
A refined vestibular system contributes to developmental skills such as
- riding a bike
- self-pumping a swing
5 Types of Vestibular Input
People are often surprised to know that vestibular input goes beyond your typical spinning and swinging, and it’s important to be exposed to all 5 types of vestibular input in order to have an efficient and balanced sensory system.
There are 5 main types of vestibular input:
- Moving front to back (like a playground swing)
- Moving side to side (like a hammock)
- Moving up and down (like jumping on a trampoline)
- When your body is spinning and also moving around an axis (like the teacup rides at Disneyland or planets revolving around the sun as they rotate)
- When your body spins (like on a merry go-round or on a computer chair)
- When you tip your head back upside down (like hanging from a tree or tipping your head back to have shampoo rinsed out)
- Side lying:
- when your head is lying on one side and moving (if you were to lie down on one side and be pushed on a platform swing or any other movable surface like a scooterboard)
These different types of vestibular input all send different sensory information to your brain to tell you more about how your body is moving in relation to gravity. It also prepares your brain to fight or flight in the event of perceived danger or if a protective reflex is needed.
How do I know if my child has problems with vestibular processing?
Some kids with sensory disorders particularly have issues with vestibular processing. This may present as a child who is fearful of movement as a whole, unable to react or move because of a fear of getting off-balance. On the other hand, some kids may be unable to stop moving and may have a hard time with safety awareness. These issues can severely impede daily life and regular activities in the home, school or community.
Learn more about an over responsive vestibular system here.
Learn more about an under responsive vestibular system here.
Free: Who Needs Heavy Work?
I mentioned proprioceptive, heavy work in the episode, which is a really calming sensory input. It’s mostly regulating for everyone, but there are some kids who benefit from it more based on their behaviors and needs. This free guides helps you determine if your kid benefits from this particular sensory input.
How can I promote vestibular processing at home?
Engaging your child in activities that promote vestibular processing should primarily focus on introducing kids to these sensations and teaching them strategies to integrate them and adjust to them in their daily activities. Movement paired with a goal-directed and purposeful task can also help.
Here’s some examples of purposeful movement based activities:
- Swinging or see-saw with music. When the music stops, stop the swing or seesaw. (PS- check out this renter friendly, portable under $40 hammock swing!)
- Roll a big ball to the child while they’re swinging and have them kick the ball back to you as they swing forward.
- Hanging upside down from the couch to pick up objects off the floor then sitting up to place them in a bucket
- Obstacle courses are inherently purposeful and goal directed, they don’t have to be complicated!
- Log rolling or somersaulting across the room to pick up an item (laundry, puzzle piece, lego piece) then rolling back to the other side to put it away.
- Trampoline: jump to music then freeze when it stops, or jump and clap while spelling a word or counting
Let me know in the comments below… which of these vestibular inputs are your child’s favorite or least favorite?