Wednesday, 13 August 2008

J and his Vestibular Sense.

One of the senses J has problems with is his vestibular sense. The vestibular sense is tied up with the inner ear - the rather beautiful structure of which can be seen above. The inner ear is comprised of :

Three fluid filled semi-circular canals,
The vestibule
The cochlea
( shell shaped and the source for "can I have a word in your "shell like")


The semi-circular canals contain tiny sensitive hair cells which detect movement and changes in the position of your head.
This information is conveyed by the motion of fluid within the semi circular canals. As we move the motion of the fluid causes gelatin like lumps called cupulas to bend one way or the other, which in turn causes the hair cells to bend. The three semi circular canals are oriented at roughly 90ยบ to each other, and so give you information in all three dimensions. So, if you were to close your eyes for a moment and tip your head back, you would know that your head is tilted even without having the visual input because your vestibular system provides that information.


If a child's vestibular system doesn't develop or integrate normally, they may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to vestibular stimulation. If they are hypersensitive then they may have fearful reactions to ordinary childhood activities such as swinging on swings, running or jumping. On the other hand if a child is hyposensitive to vestibular stimulation (like J) they may well be constantly on the move in order to sense where they are in relationship to gravity. This explains to me why J sits and rocks at times while watching the television - the constant movement tells him where he is in space and gravity.

So in the normal course of events if you tip your head back with your eyes closed - you know where you are. J would experience this differently - he might wobble and become unbalanced when trying to perform such a task. In the same way I equally struggle with tasks like these. In relaxation exercises which ask for eyes to be closed I have to be seated on a chair or on the floor - standing with eyes closed does not come naturally and I feel unbalanced (and have been told I sway alarmingly). I guess I have SPD too - or have adapted to the SPD I had as a child. In the 1970s SPD wasn't known about in the UK - the best the various people who saw me (at the advice of teachers who were concerned about my activity levels and writing) could advise my Mum was that "children like your daughter have different brainwave patterns to other children"! J is a carbon copy of me according to my Mum so I have had several "lightbulb" moments with my reading about SPD and guess my vestibular system is not the best either.

When I observe J I am aware of a great deal of movement, even when he is seemingly stationary and concentrating upon a task there is activity. So sitting watching the television involves a regular need to move around or rock. This gives vital information to his brain about where his body is in space. I think that this is when I see J's vestibular problems most clearly as he unconsciously rocks. Likewise sitting at the computer involves standing up, sitting down, hopping from one foot to another, wriggling as well as opening and closing his mouth. During this time he may be completely zoned out and speaking to him will elicit no response. Interruption - either because the computer does something unexpected or an adult tells him it's time to come off the computer often elicits an aggressive response (usually a tantrum) but at school he cries.

I am watching J at the moment - he is actively playing, running up and down (a tiny 2 bed mobile home), dancing to music, rolling on the floor, jumping and spinning - totally active and stopping every now and then to observe himself in the reflective glass of the turned off television. He has a toy golf set which is being used as anything except a golf set - the golf clubs are "an axe" and he is "chopping down trees", they are "guns" and he is a "goody chasing after the baddies" - all normal stuff in fact. Now he is dancing again to Coldplay's new album and walking round and round in circles - enjoying the momentary dizziness although he tells me that "sometimes I don't get dizzy". A bit like a Great Dane J needs a good walk or run twice a day to help him use the pent up energy - if he doesn't have this he is quite impossible at bedtime!

So I await the results of Sensory Integration Therapy to see how I can support J and help him with overcoming the problems his vestibular sense causes him on a day to day basis. I will also be interested to see if there is improvement in the activity levels.
I have spoken to Lara - we begin on 1st September....

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