Is your child falling frequently? Complaining of dizziness? Having difficulty in school with math or reading? Showing signs of slow or impaired language? These symptoms and others listed below may indicate a vestibular deficit.
The vestibular system, or balance system, develops early in utero and is nearly complete by 5 months gestation. This system facilitates two important sub-systems as a child is growing and developing: the vestibulo-ocular and the vestibulo-spinal systems. Vestibulo-ocular is the scientific and medical term for the coordination of the balance and visual system. Vestibulo-spinal is the scientific and medical term for the coordination of the balance and muscle systems. Can you see how these would be important for child development?
These subsystems are important for children to have the right muscle engagement when they are learning how to sit, roll, stand, cruise and walk within the first 12-18 months of their post-birth life. Tasks become trickier after this time: running, stairs, throwing and catching balls, learning to tie their shoes and write their name, etc. Many of these tasks require the child to know where they are in relation to an object (ie. stairs, furniture, a ball or toy, pencil and paper, etc.) and this involves the coordination of the balance, visual and muscle system … the vestibular system!!!!
Children born with vestibular deficits will demonstrate difficulties with gross motor tasks and/or visual and spatial awareness as they develop. This may reveal itself through deficits in mathematics, reading or writing at school, slow or impaired language development, unable to participate in physical activity at the same level as their peers, increased frequency of falls or losing their balance, complaints of dizziness/spinning and avoiding reading or playing outside.
A vestibular physiotherapy assessment is highly recommended if your child has 3 or more of the above symptoms. Additionally, it has been well documented that children born of low birth weight and those born with sensorineural hearing impairment are at an increased risk of vestibular deficit.
It has also been well documented that vestibular rehabilitation works for children!! Turning standard exercises into games and activities that children can enjoy while also teaching their vestibular system about gravity, movement and coordination between the eyes, muscles and balance. Vestibular therapy can be fun and has been shown to be effective at improving vestibular function in children – these improvements spread like ripples into other areas of their lives: playing with friends, learning math and languages, developing independence and exploring new activities/sports.
Caitlinn Thompson, Registered Physiotherapist/Vestibular Physiotherapist