The vestibular sense—also called the balance sense--tells your body how to shift your weight when your center of gravity changes. This is seen when a person responds to a stumble by extending an arm or leg to avoid falling. Vestibular activities stimulate the sense organs inside the inner ears and help the left and right hemispheres communicate. In turn, this promotes body awareness and coordination.
Rotary Vestibular Movement
The vestibular system is stimulated when the head changes position such as when a child turns in circles, hangs upside down, runs or swings. Rotary movement is one of the most powerful forms of vestibular stimulation because it causes rapid changes in head position. It is so powerful it can cause nausea or dizziness. However, when used under the supervision of an occupational therapist, spinning on a piece of suspended apparatus such as a swing is a treatment activity that can promote sensory integration. Other rotary activities include: merry-go-rounds, tire swings and dancing.
Some children crave the intense stimulation provided when jumping on a trampoline. This up and down movement stimulates the inner ears and at the same time provides sensory input to the muscles and joints as they compress together. This sensory stimulation increases body awareness and brain organization. Other vertical activities that promote sensory integration include pogo sticks, diving and hanging upside down while playing on monkey bars.
Movement on Inclines
Movement on inclines, especially when the child accelerates and decelerates, provides many small changes in head position, which provides powerful sensory stimulation. Occupational therapists frequently use scooter board activities—including fast movement down an incline. Similar vestibular experiences occur during sledding, cycling down hill and skiing. In addition, many amusement park rides offer this type of movement with rapid acceleration and deceleration.
Slow Vestibular Movement Activities
Some children with sensory integration disorders are hyperactive, impulsive and basically overwhelmed by the sensory stimuli in the environment. These children often benefit from slow vestibular activities. An occupational therapists may place a child on top of a therapy ball (on her belly) and rock the ball back and forth with slow, regular movements. Other slow vestibular activities include lying on a rocker board, slow movement inside a net swing or swinging side to side while wrapped in a blanket.
- “Building Bridges through Sensory Integration”; Ellen Yack, Paula Aquilla and Shirley Sutton; 2004
- “Sensory Integration and the Child”; A. Jean Ayres; 2005
- “The Out-Of-Sync Child”; Carol Stock Kranowitz; 2006
- “How Does Your Engine Run?”; Mary Sue Williams and sherry Shellenberger; 1994