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What is the vestibular system?

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    Children with autism may have an over-responsiveness or under-responsiveness to their vestibular system, which is responsible for keeping our balance.

    What is it?

    How the body handles movement is down to our vestibular systems. This is located in our inner ears. This sense helps us to keep upright against gravity. It is stimulated when we move or change our head position, it enables us to keep orientated when we are bending over to pick something up, ride in a car, walking around and doing physical activities. More subtle vestibular activities include maintaining a seated posture and paying attention.

    Difficulties you may see

    • Avoids fast moving playground equipment
    • Hesitates or avoids walking down stairs
    • Gets dizzy very easily
    • Gets car sick on trips
    • A child may spin excessively or enjoy hanging upside down
    • Moving in their seats or getting out of their seats but not necessarily in an organised manner
    • May have poor sitting posture, e.g. slumping over their desk
    • Some children may have low muscle tone therefore doing P.E activities is challenging with poor balance skills

    Strategies to help

    • Use a firm, supportive seat ensuring their feet are on a firm surface or the floor when doing homework or sitting at the dinner table
    • Encourage swinging activities in various positions (sitting, on tummy, reclined) in different planes of movement, with frequent stops and bumps
    • Encourage jumping on a space hopper or mini trampoline
    • Encourage active outside games such as rolling down a hill, going to the playground etc.
    • Provide regular proprioceptive input
    • Do some “wake-up” activities before carrying out seated activities e.g. gentle stretches, movement of music, running and/or jumping on the spot are all good. Similar activities can be used for a minute or two throughout the day whenever you sense the need.
    • For children who find it difficult to calm themselves provide linear (backwards and forwards) movement opportunities, e.g. rocking, swinging, rolling over a ball etc.

    Children with autism may be affected by difficulties relating to their vestibular system, but some simple activities and practices can help to encourage a normal functionality.

    If you would like to discuss any difficulties your child may be experiencing, please get in touch.

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