Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vestibular System Activation (Part 1)

The importance of the vestibular system and its proper development cannot be emphasized enough. The vestibular system plays a critical role in our ability to be able to stand up right while safely and effectively moving through space. It is one of the very first systems to develop in utero and is fundamental to all future physical development. As human beings we are able to relate to the pull of gravity via the vestibular system and thus have power over our bodies and the surrounding physical environment.

The vestibular system as it pertains to all of the other systems in our brain plays a very similar role like a conductor to an orchestra. It is considered to be the orchestrator because it has its "fingers" or in other words neurological connections to all the other parts of the brain. Therefore all the other sensory systems (ex. touch, ears, eyes, proprioception- as it relates to body map, position, muscle force) must first match up with the messages of the vestibular systems upon taking further actions in order to function effectively.

All learning in the first fifteen months of life is centered on the vestibular system development. Our ability to maintain a sense of balance while sitting, walking, running, jumping; be able to tell a difference between specific sounds of a letter; and thus understand the different words that create our language; be able to use our eyes in relationship to the movement of our bodies is highly dependent on the proper functioning of the vestibular system.

Several factors may contribute to the disturbances in the vestibular system such as:
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Allergies
  • Having been "shaken" as an infant
  • Over growth of yeast
  • Congenital birth defects
  • Viral infections
  • Lack of movement exposure in early stages of life
Children whose vestibular system is underdeveloped often become over-active or under- active thus have difficulty to focus, concentrate or pay attention. One of the major functions of the vestibular system is to be able to keep an appropriate level of alertness and organization in order to be ready for learning.

Children who are hyper-active (running, jumping, crashing, spinning in a predictable manner) are seeking movement to activate their vestibular system in order to help them calm down and find a sense of balance.

Children who are under-active (fidgety, move with intensity without any safety awareness, don’t have a rhythm, organization or predictability to their movement patterns) are craving movement in order to trigger their vestibular system into action and help wake up their brain. Often these children fidget, if asked to sit down, since they don’t have the adequate support of their neck and back muscle to keep up right due to insufficient communication between their muscles and their vestibular system.

Learning requires us to pay attention to the very thing, object we are learning about. A child who has poor processing with in the vestibular system will place all of their attention on triggering the vestibular system to begin sending messages to the brain in order to feel connected to his body and his environment. Because this child is fully placing attention on their bodies in an attempt to feel a level of ease and balance there will be little to no space left for the brain to take in and process new information.

Since the vestibular system plays such a critical role in the learning process it is very important to help our children provide the opportunity to activate the proper functioning of their vestibular system in order to learn and gain new skills.

In my next article I will discuss some of the ways that we can help our children activate their vestibular systems as well as discuss the importance of inter-hemispheric integration in relationship to the proper functioning of the vestibular system and how it relates to children on the spectrum.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rita! Is there a part 2 to your article? Looking forward!


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