A Boy on the Move: Vestibular Processing Disorder

A few weeks ago, Jax’s Occupational Therapist told us that she sees some indicators in Jax’s behavior that point to Vestibular Integration Processing Disorder. The vestibular system deals with movement, gravity, and balance with input from our inner ears.  “It informs us which direction we are heading and how fast we are moving. It also tells us whether we are stationary or in motion, and whether objects are moving or motionless in relation to our bodies.” (Source)

Jax shows signs of being under-responsive to the vestibular sense. “These children have nervous systems that do not always process that sensory input is “coming in” to the brain. They are under-responsive to sensation. As a result, they seek out more intense or longer duration sensory experiences. They often have difficulty with sensory registration and integration which manifests as a sensory craver or seeker needing an excessive amount of sensory input to get a normal central nervous system response and brain chemical release.” (Source)

In other words, our boy will not.sit.still.

I will admit that I am a bit confused by this. I mean, does any toddler boy ever sit still? But I know I need to trust our Occupational Therapist. She is highly skilled and trained and works with kids all day long. I know she wouldn’t have mentioned anything if there wasn’t something there. I think I’m having a hard time with it because it’s a bit ambiguous (no definite diagnosis, no definite “cure,” no definite prognosis, etc).

But when I started really looking at Jax’s behavior, it began to sink in that he is struggling (again) with some sensory integration issues.

Here are a few things we’ve noticed:

  1. Jax could care less about swinging or going down a slide – there is zero reaction, unless he is getting some other sensory input (like a tickle from mom, or a smile from dad).
  2. Jax has a very difficult time focusing (even more than a typical toddler). If he is doing a task, he is usually shaking his head, humming a song, or tapping his foot.
  3. Jax has a hard time “collecting” himself when we are in wide open spaces. In other words, he runs.and.runs.and.runs. He wanders without intention. He often looks “vacant” when this is happening – he is not excited or happy to be running! He is running because he simply doesn’t realize he is moving!

So, we have started meeting with his Occupational Therapist once a week to help Jax learn how to better recognize and process vestibular input. This includes all kinds of fun things like jumping on the trampoline, swinging, and spinning. He doesn’t really like it! But, we will continue working with him. This is something he will be able to manage, with the right intervention.

We borrowed a mini-trampoline for our house, we bought a slide, and we are doing everything we can to give Jax the sensory input of “big movement” like swinging, spinning, and tossing him into the air. We are working on strategies to help him focus and complete tasks by enforcing “one more” before he’s done.

We have also started using a weighted vest to help him feel his body more. I think the vest is really going to work! When I put it on him, it’s like he relaxes a bit and takes a deep breath. He seems more intentional in his play and in his movements. So, that’s good.

Jax is a tough guy! You can't tell by looking at him, but this is a weighted vest. The extra weight helps Jax to better be able to feel his body moving.
Jax is a tough guy! You can’t tell by looking at him, but this is a weighted vest. There are pockets sewn into the inside of the vest that hold weights. The extra weight gives Jax more sensory input.

I’m bummed about having to be back in weekly Occupational Therapy, though. I thought we were done with that!

I guess that’s just life with a micropreemie. He’s always keeping us on our toes…

Do you have experience with Vestibular Sensory Integration Disorder? What things helped your child? Do you have any tips or tricks for us?