Introduction to Vestibular
Outside of the five well-known senses, a lot of research and information is becoming available on the vestibular sense and how it impacts autistic people and those with sensory processing disorder. The vestibular sense is essentially how our body is moving, it’s position, and how it balances; as a result both fine and gross motor skills can be affected by the vestibular sense.
Due to the nature of the vestibular sense, the way it can impact people can be vast, and it can have a profound impact of multiple areas of movement.
These are the individuals who get too much feedback from their vestibular system, and some of the things to look out for that suggest a hyper-sensitivity include:
- Tendency to be clumsy.
- There is a resistance to moving, and when moving they are cautious.
- Difficulty co-ordinating any movement of the eyes.
- Leans head on arms or hand.
- Prefers to lie down rather than sit or stand.
- Looses balance when one foot is lifted to any height such as on stairs, or when doing activities such as riding a bike.
These individuals don’t get enough feedback from their vestibular system so they go seeking it out. Some things to look for include:
- Jumping from high places or general thrill seeking behaviour such as riding bikes fast, or driving fast.
- Enjoy being upside down or experiencing rough and tumble play.
- Having difficulty staying seated.
- May deliberately crash into things.
- Rolling on the floor or doing handstands, headstands or roly-polys.
Some individuals with hyper-vestibular senses may find that any kind of abrupt movement causes them to feel sick or unwell, walking can be very difficult, and travel sickness is a common occurrence. This sense tends to interact a lot with other senses to make the sensitivity even more difficult to manage – for example those who are hyper-vestibular and have certain visual processing difficulties may experience what feels like “sea sickness” for most of their day. Those who are clumsy as part of their hyper-vestibular, and have hyper-tactile senses may be in a constant state of agitation and distress because one sensory processing difficulty is causing distress in another area.
There is also the risk of harm to consider for individuals who are hypo-vestibular. As people get older, if they do not understand the dangers associated with certain behaviours they may continue to escalate in further thrill-seeking behaviours, risking harm to themselves or others.
Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.