The vestibular system is the most protected area of the brain and the first one of our senses that has an organized response to sensory input.
When we move our heads, the fluid and tiny hairs in the inner ear move, providing us with information about the position of our heads and bodies, we call this “special awareness”. This allows us to maintain balance and experience gravitational security without falling.
Each child will have a different limit of what their vestibular system can handle. Some babies startle from the slightest movement prompting a fight or flight response, whereas others have a very high thresh-hold with a need for extra input to their brain for the vestibular system to recognize it. It’s down to the vestibular system to make sense of the balance and movement after receiving info from the eyes and ears. All of this information is then filtered through the brain to provide a response.
A child with a well-developed vestibular sense feels confident and safe during movement. A healthy vestibular system is central to the integration of the other sensory systems, if it is not functioning correctly a child could appear under responsive or overly sensitive to movement. He may either need to move constantly to feel satisfied or on the flip side be fearful of movement as he feels insecure and unbalanced.
During my development workshop sessions I integrate exercises that stimulate the vestibular system. I find that many free motor experiences that once helped children to build strong vestibular systems, are not happening (or often delayed) in this modern high tech world. We have gadgets, devices, baby development contraptions and technology that promises to advance your baby, when in hindsight it actually reduces those exact primal systems that need stimulating. The milestones that are important for building a strong vestibular system are rolling, crawling, climbing, walking and running, jumping and swinging.
Most babies are rarely travel sick, usually starts in toddlerhood, but there are those few that have a particularly hard time making sense of how they are feeling especially in those with undeveloped systems. A baby’s eyes focus on the motionless interior, but their balance mechanisms are throwing signals off, as a result they can experience physiological issues like motion sickness, dizziness and even anxiety due to the fight flight response that is triggered when a baby can’t make sense of equilibrium. When traveling in a car our eyes send messages to the brain, but the delicate balance mechanisms which are located in the inner ear signal something different.
A few tips for travel sick babies and toddlers:
1)Feed them before you travel – motion sickness seems to be worse on an empty stomach
2)Time your journey for naps times – Travel sickness is less likely to happen when sleeping
3)Air your car periodically throughout the journey, even if you have aircon, crack a window open every now and again
Fiona Hauptman – Ben Dror
Occupational, Movement & Sleep Therapist
© 2014 by Fiona Hauptman