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Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: Vestibular System

The vestibular system might not be one of the five basic senses we were taught as children, but it is arguably the most fundamental sense. It is the first sensation a fetus experiences prior to birth and as our other senses develop, they in many ways depend on the vestibular system to integrate properly. Along with the cochlea of the auditory system, it comprises the labyrinth of the inner ear. Movement of the fluids in these semicircular canals inform us of changes in our head position, gravitational pull, and direction and speed of movement. The vestibular system signals to our other senses when it’s necessary to make adjustments so that we can maintain balance, clear vision, adequate muscle tone, and coordination.

Difficulties with vestibular processing can make many aspects of everyday life challenging. These children may appear lazy, hyperactive, clumsy, inattentive, impulsive, or anxious. Dysfunction can present as hypo or hyper responsive and, much like the other sensory systems, a child may exhibit behaviors of both.

Signs of difficulty with vestibular processing include:

  • Dislike/fear or craving/seeking out activities requiring feet to leave the ground such as swings, slides, riding aSensory Processing Disorder the vestibular system bike, jumping or climbing.
  • Clumsiness or frequent falling
  • Often moving slowly/cautiously
  • Frequent motion sickness/dizziness
  • Appearing to never become dizzy with excessive spinning
  • Seemingly unaware of danger/risks or impulsively jumping, running, and/or climbing
  • Appearing frequently “lost” in their environment or having difficulty locating objects
  • Dislike of being moved to stomach or back as a baby or having their head tilted back
  • Rocking, spinning, twirling, or frequent head tilting. May also intently watch moving objects
  • Often prefers sedentary activities
  • Difficulty sitting still or unable to sustain attention without moving
  • Difficulty with reading, writing, and/or math
  • Often slouches, holds head up with hands, or prefers lying down

If you notice these red flags in your child, it is important to provide as many child-directed movement opportunities as possible. Be careful not to swing or spin your child excessively, as this can cause adverse reactions such as nausea or changes in breathing and heart rate. Consultation with an occupational therapist can help you identify activities that incorporate additional sensory systems while keeping in mind your child’s current level of security.

Below are just a few suggestions for important movement experiences to incorporate throughout your child’s weekly schedule:

  • Somersaults and cartwheels
  • Log rolling
  • Jumping rope
  • Bike riding
  • Swimming
  • Gymnastics
  • Lying on the stomach to complete activities
  • Climbing across or hanging upside down from monkey bars

More on the Subtypes of SPD:

  1. Sensory Processing Disorder: The Subtypes
  2. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Tactile System
  3. Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder: The Auditory System

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

sensory activities for home

Sensory Activities in the Home

See, smell, touch, hear, taste and move. 80% of your brain is used in the processing, translation and use of sensorysensory activities for home information while your entire childhood is a process of learning, development and play! From early ages we learn what we should touch and what would burn us; we learn what sounds make us fall asleep and what sounds make us cry; we
also learn what foods we crave and which ones we say “yuck!” toward. All these sensational experiences help to shape our brains and help us engage in everyday activities, including play!

Without realizing it, the play scenarios you create with your child provide learning opportunities through every sensation. Though it may look like a child at play is only playing, he is in fact learning HOW to learn by engaging his sensory receptors to provide his body feedback. Of course, sensory play and sensory learning can be incorporated into your every day.

Here are sensory play activities you can engage in with the materials you have at home:

 

SENSATION INPUT TO YOUR BODY ACTIVITIES TO TRY AT HOME
Vestibular (movement balance) The three-dimensional sensation that places your body “here”, allowing you to understand where your body is in relation to the ground Crab walks

  • Somersault tumbles
  • Inversion yoga poses (downward dog, headstands, handstands)
  • Cartwheels
  • Spinning in circles (either assisted or independently)
  • Playground swings
  • Going down slides in different positions (on butt, on stomach feet first, on stomach head first, on back)
Proprioceptive (body position) This is your body awareness system, knowing where your body parts are in relation to one another.
  • Simon says for body movement
  • Animal walks (crab walk, bear walk, penguin walk)
  • Burrito rolls inside a blanket
  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing free style or the hokey-pokey
  • Bunny jumping

 

Tactile (touch) Through touch you get sensations about pain, temperature, texture, size, pressure and shape.
  • Play-doh
  • Shaving cream play
  • Sand boxes
  • Finding toys in rice or dry beans
  • Slime
  • Finger paint
  • Balloon volleyball
  • Secret message back writing
Visual (seeing) Your sight provides you with information about color, size, shape, movement and distance.
  • Bubbles
  • Eye-spy
  • Floating balloon
  • Mazes
  • Interactive iPad games (I love fireworks, pocket pond, glow free)
  • Play a game of “how far is that” (will need a measuring tape to confirm)
Gustatory (taste) A “chemical” sense that gives you information about the objects (edible or not) that you place into your mouth.
  • Guess that taste!
  • Play restaurant
  • Explore different tastes: sour, sweet, bitter,
  • Allow oral motor exploration during tummy time
  • Explore different textures: crunchy, smooth like yogurt, thick liquids like apple sauce, thick solid food like meat
Olfactory (smell) Another “chemical” sense that registers and categorizes smells in the environment.
  • Smell candles
  • Guess that food!
  • Scented markers
  • Make cookies
  • Label different fruits by smell
Auditory (hearing) Allows you to locate, capture and discriminate sounds in your environment.
  • Sing and dance
  • Guess that sound!
  • Directions based games (Simon says, Hokey Pokey, Bop-it, Hullaballoo)
  • Guess that animal sound!
  • Listen to different types of music
  • Hide a sound making device in the room and have your child locate it.



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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Dizzy Kids

What Is The Vestibular System

Most kids learn about the 5 basic extrinsic senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Many, however, are not as familiar with two hidden intrinsic senses: the vestibular and proprioceptive senses. The vestibular sense is one of the first to develop in a growing fetus and is stimulated by the movement of a carrying mother’s body. By only 5 months in utero, this system is well developed and provides a great deal of sensory information to a growing fetal brain. This system is very important to a child’s early development. Its role is to relay information to the brain as to where a person is in space, as related to gravity; whether they are moving or still, if they are moving how quickly, and in what direction. The vestibular system gathers that information from a set of fluid filled canals and a sac-like structure in the inner ear. These structures respond to movement, change in direction, change of head position, and gravitational pull.

  4 Ways the vestibular system may impact your child:

1. The vestibular system coordinates eye and head movements. Without this coordination, it may be challenging for children to complete everyday activities such as copying from a white board in their classroom, following a moving object such as a softball through the air; or visually scanning across a page to read. The vestibular system helps the brain to register and respond to whether the object the child is looking at is moving or if their head is moving.

2. The vestibular system also helps to develop and maintain normal muscle tone. Muscle tone is the ability of a muscle to sustain a contraction. Without a proper functioning vestibular system, it may be challenging for a child to hold their body in one position. These children may oftentimes prefer laying on the floor instead of sitting up during circle time or leaning on their elbow or hand while seated at their desk.

3. The vestibular system also impacts a child’s balance and equilibrium. As your child moves throughout their environment, so does the fluid in their inner ear canals. As the fluid in their inner ear moves, your child’s brain is receiving information as to the position of their head in space. Depending on that signal, the brain then sends a message to your child’s body signaling it to move in a way that will help them to respond to and compensate for any planned or unplanned movements.  Without efficient vestibular processing, your child may appear to be clumsy and have trouble staying on their feet during routine play.

4. Finally, the vestibular system helps a child to coordinate both sides of their body together for activities including riding a bicycle, catching a ball, zipping a coat, or cutting with scissors.

If you suspect that your child is having difficulty processing sensory information by way of their vestibular system, do your best to be sure that activities including a lot self-propelled movement are incorporated into their day. Activities may include swinging, sliding, or using other equipment at the park. Do your best to avoid activities with excessive spinning or twirling as movement in these planes can have negative effects including over-stimulation, lethargy, or changes in heart rate or breathing. It may also be challenging for your child to pace themselves during these quick paced movement patterns. Encourage activities in which your child lays on their belly to participate in games or play with toys. Throughout your day, take note to see if your child seems better able to focus after completing physical activity or partaking in activities that get them up and moving.

The vestibular system may be less commonly discussed than other sensory tracts, but its impact on your child’s ability to complete day to day activities are vast.





 

Is it okay for a Baby to Waddle with Feet Outward? What is “Toeing Out”?

In my continued effort to expedite information for parents, it is ok for your baby to waddle with their feet outwards up to the age of 2, or until the child has been walking for 4-6 months. Toeing out in new walkers is very typical up to the age of about 2, or once they have become proficient walkers.Waddling Baby

And here is why toeing out is normal in toddlers who have been walking for 4-6 months…

Babies walk in this pattern for several reasons, primarily because they are trying to maintain their balance by keeping a wide base of support due to their nervous system and their overall architecture.

New walkers are working with immature nervous systems so they need repetitive practice to build the nerve pathways.  In addition, they are learning what to do with the sensory input that they are receiving from their vestibular system (inner ear), as well as the somatosensory proprioception (feeling where their body is in space).  There are motor development theories that say that children walk not when the stepping pattern is mature, but when the balance control system matures.

Structurally, at the time children begin to walk, their center of mass is around the base of their ribs.  As they grow (and the head to body ratio changes) that center of mass lowers to around their belly button.  This high center of mass early on makes it more difficult to balance, leading to the need for an increased base of support to avoid falling.

New walkers often fire a lot of their hip muscles in order to stabilize themselves as they learn to balance on two feet.  EMG (neuromuscular studies) of children with 6 months of walking experience have also shown that they will fire their outer hip muscles (specifically the muscles that outwardly rotate their legs, and that move their legs apart) for stability.  In doing so, the hip outward rotators over-power the inward rotators, which brings their feet and legs out.

The anatomy of the feet of new walkers also facilitates their out-toeing gait pattern.  Newer walkers have large fat pads on the bottom of their feet and do not have the muscle strength or ligament stability to create a stable structure.  This capability of stabilizing at the foot typically comes with practice and age.

Since new walkers have had little weight-bearing through their legs, the shape of the thigh bone promotes a wide stance.  As the child bears weight on their legs, the shape of the bone begins to more closely resemble the mature alignment.

New walkers will often keep their arms at either chest or shoulder height to help with their balance.  This wide balance reinforces toddlers’ wide stance.  Once these children begin to swing their arms when they walk, then each step begins to promote a more narrow foot placement.

If you ever have concerns about how your child is walking, address it with your pediatrician.  If your child has been walking for 6 months or more and they continue to walk with a wide foot placement and arms at shoulder height, you may have legitimate concerns that could be addressed.

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5 Swings Used in your Child’s Therapy Sessions

Oftentimes, parents probably wonder ‘what makes the swings and equipment at my child’s therapy different than the swings at the  playground’?  The answer is that each of the swings used in the therapy gym are able to be used in a much safer and controlled Little girl sleeping in hammockenvironment, as the therapists are able to place mats and pillows under and around the swings, and the therapist can therefore challenge how the child engages in the activity and moves and manipulates his body (e.g. hanging underneath the barrel swing).  Similarly, the swings used in the therapy gym are able to be hung on a rotating hook to allow the child and the swing to move in a variety of planes and directions, providing the child with a greater amount of vestibular and proprioceptive input.

Below are explanations of 5 of the swings therapists use throughout your child’s therapy sessions to help best understand the benefits of using the therapy equipment

  1. Superman swing: The superman swing is also referred to as our prone extension swing, meaning that the child is lying in a prone position (on his belly with his arms and legs extended). The superman swing is suspended high enough off of the floor so that the child has to weight bear through his upper body (shoulders, arms, hands). We often refer to this position as using his ‘wheelbarrow’ arms. This position helps to improve upper body strength, neck strength, trunk control, and multi-tasking/motor planning, as the child is typically playing some sort of board game or activity while maintaining this prone extension position in the swing. As the child gets stronger, he shoots to remain in the swing for longer and longer durations.
  2. Cuddle swing: The cuddle swing is mostly used for self-regulation and calming, as it mimics a hammock, in that it completely surrounds, engulfs, and molds to the child’s body. While in the swing children often feel extremely secure and at ease as the swing provides them with a squeezing sensation- much like a big bear hug from mom or dad. The cuddle swing can provide the child with slow rhythmic movement, which can be very relaxing for a child, especially when he is feeling anxious or when his body is moving too quickly. The cuddle swing can also provide a child with more intense vestibular input, as the child can be spun in circles, when he is seeking more fast-paced input.
  3. Rainbow swing: The rainbow swing looks exactly how it sounds, as it has 4 different colored layers, which the child can crawl in and out of. The rainbow swing provides a rhythmic motion when the child lies on his back or stomach in one position, while the therapist swings him back and forth. Similarly, the child can start at one end of the swing and crawl through like a resistive suspended tunnel, until he reaches the other end and can crash out onto a pile of pillows. This serves as a heavy work activity and can ideally help to increase his attention and body awareness.
  4. Frog swing: The frog swing looks exactly like a playground swing, in which a child needs to pump his legs or be pushed by a therapist to get his momentum going. Typically, the child is instructed to listen for a ‘magic word’ before jumping off of the swing to crash into a pile of large floor pillows (e.g. ready, set, and ‘go’). This activity helps to work on following directions and motor planning, as the child must figure out how to get his body off of the swing at the correct timing to land on the pillows.
  5. T-swing: The t-swing looks like an upside down letter “T”, and may also be referred to as a barrel swing. The child is required to wrap his arms and legs around the barrel like a koala bear and hold on as tight as he can while the therapist is pushing and swinging him. This swing helps to work on entire body strengthening and endurance, and it also requires motor planning and body awareness in order to assume the correct position initially to get onto the swing.

As therapists, we find that the swings listed above are extremely motivating for our clients to use, and serve many distinct purposes; as such, equipment truly helps us to better reach our client’s goals (e.g. following directions; attention; body awareness; self-regulation).  The swings are also a great reward for clients to work towards throughout a therapy session, as they see all of the other children playing on them, and they want to partake in the fun too.  Feel free to ask your child’s therapist if you can come-in and peak at the therapy gym during your child’s session to help you to best understand the treatment process.

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Stability Ball Exercises

The stability ball is a simple and easy piece of equipment to work into everyday exercise for your child, ranging from infant to teenager.  Stability balls can be bought at most sports stores, cost only about 20 dollars, and last for years.

Below are some fun activities to follow along with your kiddos to see improvements in core strength, posture, and shoulder stability:

Age: Infant

  • Simply sitting your 2+ month old infant in supported sitting on the stability ball will help his posture.
  • Placing your 2-8 month old on their tummy on the ball. TLittle girl rolling on a balance ballhis is a bit more challenging then pure tummy time as they have to push up through their arms on a cushy surface, helping build strong back and shoulder muscles.
  • At 4+ months, you can lean the ball/baby to the left side and watch your infant “right” their body up toward the middle. Practice to both sides. This will help their muscles on the sides of their trunk that are important for crawling.

Age: 1 year-5 years

  • Bouncing your child up and down gently on a ball will help both their core strength and vestibular system.
  • Bouncing the ball back and forth by lifting it above your head while keeping your and your child’s tummy muscles tight helps build great core and shoulder strength.
  • 3+ years, have your child practice dribbling the ball for increased hand-eye coordination and motor planning.

Age: 5 years +

  • Sit-ups:With either
    • your child’s hips and knees at a 90 degree angle from each other or
    • holding your child’s feet down, practice crunches to build abdominal strength.
  • Push-ups: With feet on floor and child in a plank position, they can practice push-ups with their hands on the ball. An adult may need to hold the ball stable so it doesn’t move.
  • Practicing chest passes (like in basketball) is great for chest strength, motor planning and overall stability.

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What is the Vestibular System | Pediatric Therapy TV

In today’s webisode a Pediatric Occupational Therapist explains to our viewers what the vestibular system is.  Find out more on the vestibular system from our conditions page by clicking here Click here to read a blog on Vestibular Senses

In This Video You Will Learn:

  • What the foundation of the Vestibular System is
  • What Receptors are
  • How the Vestibular System relates to our bodies

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now your host, here’s Robyn. Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I am your host, Robyn Ackerman. Today I am sitting here with Dana Pais, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. Dana, can you explain to everybody, what is the vestibular system? Dana: The vestibular system is part of your nervous system and it’s actually located in your inner ear. It is the foundation for the sensation of gravity and it responds to changes in head position, and it also contributes to balance and equilibrium. There are two vestibular receptors. One responds to gravity and the other responds to movement. The interaction of these two receptors tells us where our body is in space and how our body is moving. Robyn: Thank you so much for explaining that, and thank you to our viewers. And remember, keep on blossoming. Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at LearnMore.me. That’s LearnMore.me.