Dec 162011

The vestibular system is a huge part of sensory processing. It is located in the inner ear and its purpose is to maintain balance in a person. It sends signals to one’s brain as to the position and movement of one’s head.

When you shake or nod your head, the vestibular system keeps your eyes steady so they don’t wobble around with your head. Or it will move your eyes in compensation with your head or body. When you’re walking, jumping, spinning, going up or down stairs, the vestibular system detects the motion and sends signals to your brain. The different parts of the vestibular system are assigned to perceive either linear motion or rotating motion. Linear refers to movement done in a straight line or in an up-and-down motion. Rotating motion is when your head moves back and forth or when you turn or spin.

The vestibular system is closely tied to the proprioceptive system. As the vestibular system cues the brain as to where the head is in space, the proprioceptive system tells the brain where the body is in space to maintain the balance the vestibular system is in charge of. The vestibular system will process who far your head is from the floor, while the proprioceptive system will do the same thing for one’s whole body.

The vestibular system is located right near the auditory system, in the inner ear. They both pass messages to the brain along the same nerve. If the auditory system is dysfunctional, that affects the vestibular system too, and vice versa.

As the vestibular system keeps one’s eyes steady as the head moves back and forth, visual processing is also connected. The eyes must keep processing as the head is in motion. They also must be able to work in-sync, with each other. The eyes also give information to the brain about one’s position in space, to help out the vestibular system in maintaining one’s balance.

For so many children with sensory processing disorder, the vestibular system is dysfunctional and most likely the proprioceptive system too. Vestibular dysfunction can also be the culprit behind accompanying auditory and visual processing disorders. The result is havoc, as the brain is receiving many inaccurate signals from all these senses, and the havoc equally applies to what goes on in many homes where children with sensory processing disorder reside. I’m not the first to tell the tale about this kind of chaos and I certainly won’t be the last, but I sure know what sensory dysfunction can do to an otherwise peaceful home.

Some things that also can be caused by a dysfunctional vestibular system: dizziness, motion sickness, ringing in the ears, forgetfulness, inability to pay attention/distractibility, difficulty focusing, lack of coordination, and headaches. Secondary effects can be frustration, anxiety, and lack of self-confidence.

You can see why a well-functioning vestibular system is so important to a well-functioning child (/adult)!

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