What is Vestibular Dysfunction?
Sensory overload is something that we all experience to a degree, but those with Autism Spectrum Disorder often also have a Sensory Processing Disorder or have sensory integration difficulties. This means autistic individuals tend to be more easily and more heavily impacted by their sensory surroundings. This is a seven part series in which I will address the different types of sensory disorders, help you identify them, and find some solutions. This sixth blog post addresses Vestibular Dysfunction
Vestibular Dysfunction addresses a problem with the Vestibular System, which is in charge of coordinating movement and balance based on the position of our heads in space. This system is located in our inner ear. If you have ever heard of someone having a common cold and getting mild Vertigo, they would describe the feeling as if everything around them were constantly spinning. Vestibular Dysfunction has similar origins within the Vestibular System. The Vestibular System is what allows you to close your eyes, tilt your head, and still know which way you are facing. By combining factors of gravity, balance, movement and spatial awareness, it is no doubt an integral part of our existence that many of us are not even aware of.
How do I identify Vestibular Dysfunction?
People who have a hypersensitive Vestibular System are usually wary of ordinary movements, as it can be too much for them to handle. For instance, even standing up or turning around too quickly can trigger an imbalance in the body’s equilibrium. Things to notice when they are young include a fear or avoidance of certain activities such as swinging on swings, going down slides and going up hills. Like Proprioception Dysfunction, they seem to have clumsy behaviors. Generally, people have a combination of multiple sensory processing disorders, but Vestibular Dysfunction is more apparent during activities involving uneven surfaces and height differences. In addition, stimming behaviors are also commonly associated with having a hyper-active Vestibular System. Repetitive stimming actions like mild rocking or swinging can help calm an over-stimulated Vestibular System.
A hyposensitive Vestibular person would be the opposite; they require more movement sensory input than what is neurotypically average in order to feel comfortable. Also, they may constantly feel the need to spin or twirl around, run around in circles, jump up and down, and may have no fear of heights at all. An individual with a hyposensitive or hypo-reactive Vestibular System is under-stimulated and is constantly searching for certain movements to fill that absence. As a result, on the outside they may seem hyperactive, fidgety or simply overflowing with energy at all times.
What techniques can I use to help someone with Vestibular Dysfunction?
Hypersensitive techniques require predictable, slow and rhythmical movements. It is important to have the hypersensitive individuals initiate and be in charge of these activities whenever possible:
- Gentle swinging
- Rocking back and forth
- Slow twirling
Hyposensitive techniques require fast and unpredictable movements:
- Bouncing (eyes are trained to refocus with the head)
Learn more about the Vestibular System in this video!
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