Vestibular vs. Proprioceptive Sensory Systems Explained
You may have previously read or heard your child’s therapist talk about the “vestibular system” or "proprioceptive system”. This blog post will help to explain the most important details you should know about these specific sensory systems and activities you can try at home!
The Vestibular System:
The vestibular system is the area in the body that helps to control a person’s sense of motion, possible changes in movement, and their overall equilibrium and balance. The vestibular system is located within the inner canal of a person’s ear and contains tiny receptors that provide important information to the central nervous system regarding where the body is in space.
Many children with vestibular system processing challenges may be sensitive (over responsive), seek out (underresponsive) or slower to respond to vestibular input.
Signs a child may be sensitive to vestibular movement:
May fear movement or avoid having their feet come off the ground (i.e. nervous to go on a swing, climb on playground equipment, appears anxious when picked up, or dislikes their head leaned backwards)
Prefers sedentary tasks that do not require movement
Difficulty climbing on age-appropriate playground equipment
Becomes carsick or dizzy easily
Avoids elevators or escalators
Signs a child may be seeking out vestibular movement:
Rarely feels dizzy
Gravitates towards fast moving input (i.e. rollercoasters, fast moving swings, slides etc)
Unable to sit still
Consistently climbs on furniture
Rocks in chair
Signs a child may be slow to respond to vestibular input:
Bumps into objects without realizing
Loses balance out of seemingly nowhere
Presents as “clumsy”
Note: Some children with sensory processing challenges may not be able to tell when the input is “too much”. Sensory overload may show as increased respiration, nausea, sweaty palms and disorientation. Look out for these signs during the activities.
Vestibular activities to try at home:
Hop Scotch Single leg balance
Blow bubbles and have your child run to pop them
Swing Jump on the trampoline
Shoebox skating (photo credit)
Riding on a scooter board Frog Jumps
Walking on couch cushions/pillow
Dance parties, freeze dance, "Ring around the Rosie", musical chairs, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes"
The Proprioceptive System:
Our proprioceptive system is the part of the body that provides awareness of where our body is in space. The proprioceptive system is located within the receptors of our skin, joints, and muscles and is then transferred to the brain to process the information received.
Signs your child may have difficulty processing proprioceptive stimuli:
Poor body awareness/motor planning (overstuffing their cheeks with food without realizing, pushing down so hard on a writing utensil that it breaks, difficulty walking up and down the stairs, challenges organizing the body to climb on playground, frequently falling or bumping into objects)
Poor postural control (single leg balance challenges, slumps and moving often in chair, unable to keep head up when seated at a table)
Sensory seeking behaviors (chews on clothes, bites others, prefers tight or loose clothes, prefers activities with pushing, pulling or rough play activities, uses excessive force to complete tasks)
Proprioceptive Activities to try at home:
Wall push ups:
Animal Walks (i.e. bear walks, snake crawls, crab walks):
Pulling squigs off the mirror: Play Doh:
Crawling through a tunnel Pushing therapy ball up the wall (photo credit)
Pull apart Legos:
Hanging from playground equipment:
Tug of war
Drinking thick liquid through a straw
Blowing up a balloon
Crashing into/Climbing over pillows and couch cushions
Walking with a heavy backpack on
Helping out with chores (carrying a laundry basket, washing the car, shoveling/raking)
Throwing and catching a weighted ball
Pillow tower on top of body
The content in this blog should not be used in place of medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes. All activities/exercises posted in this blog should be performed with adult supervision, caution, and at your own risk. Big Leaps, LLC is not responsible for any injury while performing an activity/exercise that has been posted on this blog. If you have any information on the content of our blog, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.