Sunday 21 January 2018

What is Vestibular Input Responsible For?

**** Please note that if you feel that you or your child would benefit from increasing vestibular input, please consult a trusted medical professional first. ****

Both O and L have always loved hanging upside down. When we lived in Perth they were constantly wanting to hang upside down on our swing set or sit upside down for short periods in one of our lounge chairs. If they weren't hanging upside down, they would be outside jumping on the trampoline, swinging on the swing set or spinning around in the backyard or on one of our many sensory tools or on our office swivel chair.

Since moving to Queensland, both little superheroes have taken it in turns to sit upside down in my recliner to watch television or just to chill out on a very regular basis. They have also been participating in quite a lot of other movement seeking activities as we haven't yet purchased another trampoline.

All of this movement seeking that they are doing is increasing their vestibular input.

I've talked very briefly about the Vestibular system in previous posts so I thought that it was about time for a post simply devoted to the vestibular system.

So what is the vestibular system?

As I have previously mentioned the vestibular system is our movement and balance sense. Put simply the vestibular sense provides us with information as to where our body and head are in space. It helps us to keep our balance and to stay upright.

The vestibular sense is one of our first senses that develop when a foetus is growing in utero. The vestibular sense is stimulated to develop by the movement of the mother's body. By 5 months in a typically developing foetus, the vestibular system is already providing a great deal of sensory information to the growing foetal brain!

The receptors responsible for providing information about this system are located in our inner ear. Any type of movement will stimulate the vestibular receptors, but the best movement activities for gaining vestibular input are spinning, swinging and hanging upside down!

Why is Vestibular input important?

All children, regardless of if they have sensory processing difficulties or not, require this movement to develop their vestibular system. Vestibular input assists children to make sense of the world around them and assists them to learn to move through their environment. As the vestibular system is responsible for our balance and movement, all children require vestibular input for healthy development.

Vestibular input, a.k.a. movement, is crucial to developing a child's gross motor skills. Movement assists in developing a child's posture and muscle tone. Movement will assist to develop a child's visual- spatial perception - where their body is in relation to their other body parts and to objects or people around them, this also assists in developing fine motor control, and also to assist in recognising left from right and crossing their midline.

What happens if a child's vestibular system is not functioning correctly?

Children with sensory processing difficulties may be under responsive or over responsive to vestibular input.

L is constantly on the move so it would be safe to say that he has an under-responsive vestibular input. He requires the constant movement to calm himself and keep on track. When we first noticed that L loved to spin, we were concerned that he would cause himself to become dizzy. He can literally spin for hours and will never become dizzy. L is always jumping on the furniture, on our trampoline when we lived in Perth. He loves spinning in the swivel office chairs and he loves sitting in upside down positions. And if he is going to move somewhere, there is a very high chance that he is going to run! L is a risk taker and will always want to climb higher than he really should! For L, vestibular input is very much calming. In regards to crossing the mid-line on the other hand, this is something that L has always struggled with. He is becoming much better but still needs assistance at times.

O on the other hand, while she does like to sit upside down in the lounge chairs, she has more of an over-responsive vestibular system. O isn't a risk taker - she is very cautious when climbing on playground equipment. O moves a lot more slower compared to L. She has always said that she is afraid of heights, even when the height is not that great. O will always try to climb up ladders and rope ladders on playgrounds but you can always see from the look on her face that she isn't too comfortable with the activity. And quite often when she reaches the top, she will have to be either coaxed to the slide to come down or she will climb back down in tears. O is my uncoordinated little superhero - she is the one that is constantly bumping into objects without even realising. It all makes sense now!

L was a natural when it came to learning how to ride a bike. O on the other hand was much more cautious.

L's gross motor skills have always been far advanced from those of his peers (once he got the idea of walking.) O on the other hand, her gross motor skills are still developing.

So what activities are useful for developing the vestibular system?

We're hoping to get a trampoline soon as it is great for jumping and for L to do his much loved front flips! Even just a series of somersaults on the ground is great for vestibular input. And a jump around on a jumping castle is a must when we spot them at markets or other festivals!

We encourage O to take risks on play equipment but we always ensure that we are nearby to give the much needed reassurance that she will be okay. And when she does take a risk or climb higher than she has on previous occasions, we will point that out so that she realises that her own abilities are developing.

We encourage L and O to sit upside down in one of the lounge chairs in our house - they are restricted to one in the house so as to minimise damage to the furniture! When we are at a playground, we'll encourage L and O to try hanging upside down from the various equipment to gain much needed vestibular input.

We encourage L and O to spin either using their own motion or using one of our sensory tools. They love the swivel office chair as well as a twist balance board that we have in our sensory kit in the house.

We do lots of swinging on the swings in the local playground and when they are swinging, we encourage them both to swing themselves using their own body motion.

We encourage O and L to get out into the backyard to do a lot of jumping and running. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, they love running around the backyard.

We encourage L and O to climb. L loves climbing trees so we take him down to our local park to climb the amazing array of climbable trees! Whenever we visit a playground, we encourage O and L to explore every part of the play area and to do as much climbing as possible. We encourage them both to climb the various different climbing textures so that they can get the feel of different textures and/or equipment.

We also do a lot of activities in which both O and L have to co-ordinate both sides of their body - bike riding, scooter riding, catching a ball, kicking a ball, drawing, painting, typing on the computer. Activities that assist them in developing their gross motor skills, fine motor skills and crossing their mid-line.

All of these activities and more are a part of O and L's sensory diet and all of these activities are assisting in providing much needed vestibular input for them both.


  1. What awesome tips! I love practical ideas like this. I've wanted to get my kids a trampoline for so long, maybe it's time!

  2. This is good to know. I'm a parent of two and I had not put a lot of thought into the vestibular system. I also didn't know that it is our movement and balance sense.

  3. This is good to know. I'm a parent of two and I had not put a lot of thought into the vestibular system. I also didn't know that it is our movement and balance sense.

  4. There is a lot of great information here. I never thought to encourage upside down play!

  5. Some great everyday practical ideas there to help with this . Mostly what kids should be doing to play anyway ! Great to point out their positives :)

  6. Thanks for sharing this informative post. My older is a Speech Language Pathology major, I will share with her.

  7. What an informative post. Plus, I love your tips and tricks!

  8. I learned so much from this post! Thanks for sharing

  9. This was a great education for me. Thank you for this post because it is so informative.

  10. It's first time when I hear about it! but it's really interesting I need to read more about taht vestibular system

  11. Thanks so much for the blog. it’s really great to know a little about each blog. keep it. Great information. thank you so much. Custom Playground Equipment


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