Vestibular-Processing-HomeworkWhat is the Vestibular System?

The vestibular system detects movement and gravitational pull, and it provides information regarding the position of our head in space and acceleration and deceleration of movement. It is the first sensory system to fully develop in uteroandis located in the inner ear. The vestibular system has strong neurological connections in the brain and is a major organizer of varied sensory input. This system is considered the most influential sensory system and has tremendous impact on one’s ability to function daily. Directly or indirectly, the vestibular system influences nearly everything we do. It is the unifying system in our brain that modifies and coordinates information received from other systems, and it functions like a traffic cop, telling each sensation where and when it should go or stop.  Read a blog on the Vestibular Senses by clicking here.

How does this system function?

This system affects aspects of physical function like posture, balance, movement, coordination, attention, arousal level, impulsivity and behavior. The vestibular system works with tactile, auditory, and visual information to give us our perception of space and our position and orientation within that space. Children affected by poor vestibular processing may be perceived as inattentive, lazy, overly anxious, or seeking attention. They may have trouble reading or doing simple arithmetic. Functioning at school, going out into the community, performing routine daily tasks, or just getting out of bed in the morning may be difficult for children with vestibular difficulties.

What causes poor vestibular processing?

Poor vestibular processing (or vestibular dysfunction) can occur for a variety of reasons; often, however, children develop a vestibular disorder for no known reason. Possible causes for vestibular dysfunction include: premature birth and a fairly long period of incubation after birth, exposure to excessive movement or invasive sounds as a fetus or infant, neglect (little handling and moving) during infancy, repeated ear infections or severe ear infections, maternal drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy, or general developmental delay and immature development of the nervous system.

What are some symptoms of poor vestibular processing?

Symptoms and functional difficulties of poor vestibular processing include:

  • Over-arousal or under-arousal
  • Excessive movement
  • Avoiding movement at all costs
  • Difficulty maintaining attention
  • Motion sickness (car, boat, airplane), dizziness or nausea caused by watching things move
  • Excessive spinning or excessive watching of things spin
  • Inability to read or write in cursive
  • Decreased auditory processing
  • Inability to sustain listening without moving or rocking
  • Problems with balance (static or moving) and/or vertigo
  • Difficulty walking on uneven ground, and difficulty navigating stairs
  • Head banging
  • History of traumatic brain injury, shaken child syndrome, ear cuffing, etc.

Why is this system important?

The vestibular system primes the entire nervous system to function effectively by sending messages to the higher centers of the brain. When the influences of vestibular stimuli fail to reach their destinations, they cannot adequately contribute to sensory integration. One result of depressed vestibular processing is hypotonicity (low muscle tone); when this system is not integrating information as it should and muscle tone is decreased, it is difficult to initiate movement or to maintain muscle tension during movement, resulting in significant difficulties in fine/gross and oral motor coordination.

The vestibular system also tells us where we are in relation to the ground, giving us a confidence that if we jump, swing, or somersault, we know we will hit the ground on our way down. Thisknowledge is called “gravitational security,”and with this basic sense of stability, children develop emotional security.

A child with dysfunctional vestibular processing, who does not possess “gravitational security,” tends to be inflexible, fearful and controlling due to the fact that he lacks control over the world around him and how he moves through it. This child often suffers from social problems as well, as he feels vulnerable to unpredictable situations caused by those around him.

Our approach at North Shore Pediatric Therapy

At North Shore Pediatric Therapy, we treat juvenile vestibular dysfunction with occupational therapy. Treatment strategies include bombarding the sensory systems with a variety of intense sensory input through the use of swings, obstacle courses, trampolines, therapy balls, auditory and visual activities that incorporate movement.

Client Reviews (16)

I completed my first FWII placement at NSPT in Bucktown. I had such a fantastic learning experience that truly helped me to grow my skills and experience. The staff at Bucktown was extremely welcoming and happy to teach, answer questions and allow me to observe outside my discipline to make this an even more well-rounded experience. The orientation/mentor program is great for students and makes heading into FW a much easier transition that sets you up for success. I had a great working relationship with my clinical instructor who helped me develop my treatment planning, documentation and intervention skills as well as teaching me a great deal about being a practicing OT in general! Overall, I couldn’t ask for anything more from a FWII experience!


I completed my Level IIA Fieldwork at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Bucktown. I am so impressed by the organization of the student program and its emphasis on the reflection process. This reflection process has helped me develop clinical reasoning skills that are significant to treating clients. I also felt surrounded by a professional body of therapists that took on a mentor role, especially my supervisor. The gradual increase in case load was challenging yet manageable, providing me with client-centered intervention experience that will apply to my future endeavors as a therapist. Thank you, North Shore.


Our son Ian has been having sensory issues for a while & we were very pleased with the work that Ms. Dawn had been doing with him to help him deal with his processing issues. We were sad to leave NSPT due to a move out-of-state.

Stephanie Long

I completed my level II OT fieldwork at NSPT and it was a really positive experience. There is a multidisciplinary staff that are all eager to welcome and assist in the learning process. It is a really great location to learn about diverse applications of pediatric OT. All of the staff are passionate about what they do and have creative and exciting ideas to motivate children as they work on a wide variety of skills. NSPT is a wonderful placement for developing skills for pediatric OT and I am grateful to have had this experience!


We are incredibly fortunate to have Mrs. Ellyn’s influence. Even though we have only been here for 6 months, I am seeing a more able, more confident child. Mrs. Ellyn not only has helped gross and fine motor control, coordination and motor planning, but has helped set boundaries and attainable goals for my child. It is great to see him grow so strong.


I completed my final level II OT fieldwork at NSPT and had one of the best clinical experiences I could have expected. The entire staffs’ level of investment in their work motivated me to be creative while also working hard to deliver evidence-based research interventions. The successful stories I often heard from parents regarding their child’s growth reflects the passion and love each clinician at NSPT has for their job. I am so sad to have to say goodbye to the staff and the kids I’ve been working with for the past three months, and can’t express how grateful I am to have been placed here!

Mary Kate Mulry

My 5-year-old son has been receiving OT therapy at NSPT for 2 1/2 years. Could not be happier with his progress. Thank You NSPT!

Barnaby Wilde

My son (now 4) has been receiving OT at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Glenview for almost a year. He receives a wide array of OT services including feeding therapy, core strengthening, fine-motor work, and balance activities. It is very encouraging to see the progress he has made and how much he enjoys his sessions. The OT truly listens to our concerns and provides us with plenty of resources and activities that we can work on at home to keep his progress going.

Jennifer N

North Shore Pediatric Therapy (NSPT) has changed our lives for the better! My six year old son was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder when he was 3. Getting through a day was a difficult journey for the entire family until we began to get Occupational Therapy services (OT) for him. We see Ellyn, an OT at the Highland Park office, and she acts not only as an advocate for my son helping him strengthen his areas of weakness, but also as a great support system for me (mom). The entire NSPT team has been fantastic. I highly recommend them!


Our daughter is currently 3.5 years old. Since birth, we knew something wasn’t quite right. Her colic lasted nearly a year and when the colic broke, whining/crying/severe tantrums began. She was evaluated at 3 and 24 months by an OT for potential sensory processing issues and both came back inconclusive. We had her seen by a behavioral specialist as well as a developmental pediatrician. No one was able to help our struggled daughter or us. Until Dec 2013 when we came to North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Highland Park….we met Ellyn Kearney. She understood our daughter before she even met her. Ellyn has changed our lives and how we live day to day. Our daughter suffered from severe sensory processing issues despite being a healthy beautiful child. The progress noted from my child is remarkable. Thank you NSPT and Thank you Ellyn.


My 6 year-old son was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism/PPD-NOS around age 3 1/2 years old. After searching and looking for Occupational Therapy services we started coming to North Shore Pediatric Therapy in April 2013. We began seeing Shannon Phelan here at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Bucktown for his OT services. We have seen a tremendous amount of growth in his OT Fine & Gross Motor skills: holding a pen/pencil, writing his letters and numbers and working on his Sensory Processing Integration. We are extremely pleased with our Occupational Therapist, Shannon and the entire North Shore Pediatric Staff. I would highly recommend coming here if you need Occupational Therapy services for your child.

Melinda V

I completed my Level II Fieldwork at NSPT in Bucktown in 2011. From the moment I walked in on the first day it was clear that NSPT created a supportive environment that would further my development as a professional and as an occupational therapist. The sense of community created a comfortable environment to collaborate with other disciplines. Not only was my clinical instructor invested in my learning, but so was the whole staff. Through this experience at NSPT, I found my passion for working within pediatrics. I increased my clinical knowledge, clinical reasoning and confidence during this time. I would highly recommend this site for occupational therapy students looking for a well-rounded and challenging experience.


I completed my second Level 2 fieldwork experience at North Shore Pediatric Therapy and could not have enjoyed my time more. I learned invaluable lessons about the world of pediatric occupational therapy all in a warm and welcoming environment created by staff members of all disciplines. I would highly recommend this fieldwork experience to anyone interested in working with children.


I was able to complete my Level 2 occupational therapy fieldwork at NSPT. It was a great experience! I was challenged educationally and clinically, and as a result came out of the experience with a greater knowledge about sensory integration, fine and gross motor skills, and how to evaluate and treat a wide variety of children in an outpatient setting. My supervisor and all of the staff made me feel welcome and a part of the team!


I completed my second Level 2 fieldwork at North Shore Pediatric Therapy in Glenview and Bucktwon in the Spring of 2012. I enjoyed my experience so much that I am now an employee at NSPT! Overall, I had a very positive yet challenging learning experience that supported growth in my clinical and professional skills. Not only did I grow my OT skills and knowledge but I was able to learn about and collaboate with many different disciplines including social work, physcial therapy, speech language pathology, neuropsychology, etc. NSPT is able to provide students a unique experience to learn how to treat the whole child to help them function at their fullest potential!

Sara Probasco

I had the opportunity to complete my Level 1C fieldwork experience at North Shore Pediatric Therapy Bucktown. I was incredibly impressed by the knowledge and professionalism of all the staff and their work with the clients and their parents. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and I highly recommend this site for any level 1 or 2 OT student interested in pediatrics. I wish I could have stayed longer.