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Vestibular Input and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

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Vestibular input is just one of eight senses that we receive sensory input from on a daily basis. If we are seeking more vestibular input or sensitive to the amount of vestibular input we are receiving it may make certain tasks very challenging. 

Understanding vestibular input and SPD

Sensory processing is how we take in information from our environment, interpret it then respond. We are all consistently processing sensory input during our days. This is how we interact with those around us and engage in activities. 

When the sensory information we receive isn’t organized correctly we may have challenges properly interpreting the input that we are getting. This may result in difficulties engaging successfully with our daily activities and tasks. 

Vestibular input is the sensory input we receive from our inner ear. It lets us know about our head movements and position in space. We all know we are sitting upright because of our vestibular system. When you are on a rollercoaster it is your vestibular system that lets you know when you’ve flipped upside down. 

For some vestibular input can be very stressful, and overstimulating. This may look like a child being scared when their feet are lifted off the ground, not wanting to go on a swing, or marry-go-round, not wanting to climb and run at the park. They may also become upset when bathing and their head is tipped back to wash their hair. 

For others, they can’t get enough of this input. This may look like spinning, rolling, jumping, climbing, and hanging upside down whenever they can. Difficulties staying seated in the classroom. At times they may appear to be daredevils not seeming to notice the speed or height at which they are playing. 

You can see how either end of the spectrum may present challenges for daily life.

Benefits of vestibular input for children with SPD

For children that seek more vestibular input and for those that avoid it, engaging in the proper input can be helpful to regulate their sensory systems and responses. Engaging in vestibular input it can help to improve balance, coordination, body awareness, and attention.

You can imagine the other possible effects on emotional regulation and self-regulation when properly processing the vestibular input we receive during the day.  For example, not being overwhelmed with movement tasks, being able to engage easier with friends, and being able to sit in the classroom to engage with school work.

Practical strategies to incorporate vestibular input

There are many ways to add more vestibular input into your child’s day. Make sure to meet them where they are. If they tend to seek more vestibular movement, your goal is to help them fulfill and meet that need. If they tend to avoid the goal is to help them become more comfortable with the movement and learn how to successfully process the vestibular input they receive. 

Not all activities will be right for all kids, as always it’s recommended to work with an OT who specializes in sensory processing disorder to develop a sensory diet that is right for you and your child. 

  • Swinging in a sensory swing
  • Spinning in an office chair
  • Paying movement-based games like Simon Says, indoor obstacle course, ring around the rosie
  • Small indoor trampoline
  • Yoga
  • Therapy balls
  • Balance boards
  • Swinging on a playground swing set
  • Climbing structures
  • Nature walks
  • Gymnastics
  • Tumbling
  • Dance
  • Swimming

Incorporating movement into daily routines

Incorporating movement breaks throughout the day, such as a quick break jumping on a mini-trampoline or engaging in yoga poses can be very impactful. 

For the child that seeks more input, it’s important to give them as many opportunities as needed to help meet their threshold. On the other side, for the child that avoids, engaging in movement activities in short durations may be more tolerable and successful for them. 

Remember it can take time to learn what works best for your child. Continue to work with an OT and explore the different ways to help your child get the right type of vestibular input into their day. Finding the right activities can have a very positive impact on their overall well-being and sensory experiences!

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