The OT Toolbox: Vestibular Activities

Vestibular sensory input is a powerful tool in helping children with sensory needs.  Adding a few vestibular activities to the day allows for long-lasting effects.  Every individual requires vestibular sensory input in natural development.  In fact, as infants, we are exposed to vestibular input that promotes a natural and healthy development and integration of all systems. 

These sensory vestibular activities are playful ways to promote performance and tolerance to movement activities.  They are also challenges against gravity to help kids with difficulties in equilibrium, balance, self-regulation, and adjusting to typical sensory input.


Vestibular activities for kids


What is the vestibular system? 

The vestibular system operates through receptors in the inner ear and in conjunction with position in space, input from the eyes, and feedback from muscle and joint receptors, is able to contribute to posture and appropriate response of the visual system to maintain a field of vision.

How does the vestibular system work?


These receptors are actually hair cells that are found in two structures in the inner ear:
Receptors on the Otolith organs respond to linear movement, gravity, and head tilt
Receptors on the semicircular canals respond to angular movement of the head and quick movement changes.

These receptors provide information to the central nervous system about the body's position in space and project information to several areas:
Cerebellum- Information received in the cerebellum is used to control posture, eye, and head movements.
Oculomotor nuclei- Information received here help to correct the eyes with head and body movements.
Spinal cord- Information received here helps with muscle tone and postural adjustments.
Thalamus and cortex- Information received here helps with perception of motion and spatial orientation and integrates somatosensory information.

Problems with the Vestibular processing System
When there is a problem with the visual processing system, there are many features you may see.

These might be considered red flags of vestibular processing problems:


Poor visual processing
Poor spatial awareness
Poor balance
Difficulty with bilateral integration
Sequencing deficits
Poor visual-motor skills
Poor constructional abilities
Poor discrimination of body position
Poor discrimination of movement
Poor equilibrium
Subtle difficulties discerning the orientation of head
Trouble negotiating action sequences


Vestibular activities elicit sensory red flags that indicate difficulties with the vestibular system

Vestibular Activities


To treat and address problems with vestibular sensory processing, activities should provide movement and resistance to movement.  In these activities, it is essential that children have active participation


Vestibular Activity Movements:

Depending on the individualized needs of the child, activities can be designed to include movements such as:
Prone swinging
Seated swinging
Standing swinging
Linear movements
Vertical movements
Rotary movements
Angular movements
Upside down movements
Horizontal movements
Challenges to balance
Inverted head
Unstable base of support
Starts and stops in motion
Changes in direction
Changes in speed

Precautions for Vestibular Sensory Input

Vestibular input is extremely powerful.  Negative reactions to sensations may not be apparent for several hours following input.  Sensory overload or sensory disorientation can occur even when the child appeared to respond well to sensations during the actual activity or therapy session.  Additionally, children with impaired sensory systems may not be able to recognize when they have reached a point of "too much" input during the treatment activity.  

Sensory overload presents with pupil dilation, sweaty palms, changes in respiration, and disorientation.  

Try these vestibular activities:

The vestibular system is one of the bodys senses and responsible for awareness of our body in space and gravitational insecurity during tasks.  Kids can use balance beams to work on integration of the vestibular sense, perfect for children who seek movement, run into objects, fear certain positions, have trouble visually tracking items in reading and written, and more. Occupational Therapy with a balance beam activities. Try these vestibular sensory activities with the family this Fall Try these sensory integration therapy ideas at the playground for vestibular and proprioceptive sensory input. Indoor Ice Skates proprioception and vestibular sensory play activity





Vestibular sensory play activity for indoor play. This shot put game is a great way to incorporate the vestibular system into play. Super easy and fun Frisbee Vestibular activity for indoor play this winter.  Get the kids moving! Try these backyard vestibular sensory activities for summerMake a wobble balance disc from ice for sensory input and balance training. This helps kids with attention, strengthening, and fidgeting while incorporating sensory needs like proprioception and vestibular integration.





Little Blue Truck and farm themed brain breaks for attention, focus and sensory needs in the classroom based on farm animals.Ice Cube Proprioception and Vestibular Activity for kids that need sensory input. This is fun for typically developing children (and the adults) too!



Vestibular Activities that kids will love

Vestibular activities and how they are processed by the body's vestibular system

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