Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Vestibular and Proprioceptive Senses

So we all know the 5 senses we were taught about in school: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. But once you have a child with sensory issues, you learn about 2 other important ones: proprioception and vestibular. The vestibular sense is the “king” of the senses, and contributes to our sense of balance, our movements, and our position in space. The proprioceptive sense is input from the muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, stretch, movement, and changes in position in space.

Andy is vestibular hyposensitive, which means he is under-responsive to movement. He is constantly in motion, wiggling his legs, tapping his feet, flapping his hands, etc. He needs to keep moving so his brain knows where his body is. He loves to spin, and can spin in circles forever without getting dizzy. Sometimes just watching him makes me want to throw up. I don’t know how he does it! He loves to swing, which is actually calming to him, and the higher and faster the better. We purchased a net therapy swing and have it hung up in our basement. He swings every morning before school, and then whenever he feels like he needs it. He loves to jump on anything and everything. Before we had our SPD diagnosis, it used to drive me crazy to always have him climbing and jumping on the furniture. Now we have a big trampoline outside, and an exercise trampoline inside so he can jump as much as he wants.

Children with vestibular dysfunctions tend to be clumsy and uncoordinated also. They often have poor muscle tone, and lack endurance. Andy is lanky and uncoordinated in the way he moves. His trunk is weak. He hasn’t been able to learn to ride a bike without training wheels because his core isn’t strong enough and he has a hard time balancing. He can’t cross the monkey bars by himself yet. In OT, they are working with him to strengthen his muscles and build endurance.

Children with proprioceptive dysfunction are often sensory seekers. They love to jump, wrestle, crash into things, fall down, and bump people. They sometimes are too aggressive with other children and don’t realize that their pushing, bumping, and knocking into isn’t fun for others. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting in the living room only to have Andy run full speed from across the room and jump on my back. Not fun.

Andy definitely suffers from proprioceptive dysfunction. He’s constantly trying to wrestle and rough house with his brother, and someone ALWAYS ends up getting hurt. I didn’t sign up to be a wrestling referee! He jumps, he runs and slides on the hardwood floors, he spins around in circles. He loves to he wrapped tightly in blankets. Basically anything and everything to get the sensory imput he needs.

Unfortunately children with proprioceptive dysfunction often grind their teeth and clench their jaws. Andy's jaw is so tense sometimes that his teeth chatter. We’ve started chewing lots and lots of gum to give him the oral input he needs while giving his poor molars a break. I also purchased him some chewy pencil toppers for his pencils at school so he can get some chewing in while working at his desk.

Today we have a snow day, and Andy is sensory seeking badly! He was running laps around the basement a while ago. That was fine until he shoved his brother to the ground. I redirected him and wrapped him tightly in a blanket so he could watch a movie. That calmed him for a while, and then he decided to get a big bouncy ball out to throw at his brother’s head. Again, not a good choice.

It is a never ending battle of trying to determine what his specific sensory needs are at any one time. He is starting to “get it” somewhat and will sometimes tell me what he needs and when. But some days he still needs a little direction. This is one of those times.

I think it may be time for him to go swing. That should calm him for a while. Hopefully.


  1. I just stumbled upon your blog. We have a 4 year old daughter who is dealing with these same things. Trampoline in the living room. Swing in her room. It seems to be a constant struggle to know just what her body needs at any given time. It's comforting to read your blog! No one ever really gets it when I talk about my day, and about SPD. Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. I found your blog when doing a google search for a good and easy to understand explanation of Vestibular and Proprioception issues and treatments. I was needing a place to send my readers to for references so they could understand more.

    I want to thank-you very much for your post here and your blog. I have SPD myself and so do both of my sons. You do a wonderful job of explaining SPD and the life that comes with it. Thank-you. :)

    I have a website that can be seen at www.DogForDavid.com and I am trying to collect helpful resource pages, support group forums, and parent blogs that people can turn to in order to learn more about Autism and the side issues that can come with it. One of the biggest challenges I have had is finding a good source for SPD though which is definitely one of the biggest struggles an Autistic child faces.

    Would you mind if I add your blog to the resource list as a place to go to learn about what life is like with SPD? I would greatly appreciate it. :)

    Thanks for your time and attention and especially for your blog. I look forward to your response. :)


    1. Dear Brandi,
      I - like Cindi before me - am seeking a clear outline of vestibular and proprioception issues. I would like to be able to quote you also and to direct people to your blog. Would that be agreeable to you? My son has vestibular issues - when the day comes that people understand these development delays it will be a blessing! Maybe then the 'incompetency' or worse still 'bad behaviour' manifested by this struggle will be revealed as the involuntary struggle that it presents - not unlike a child that struggles with deafness or spinal issues. Until that time we are dependent upon blogs such as yours to enlighten us. Many many thanks. Glenda