Swinging, or any kind of movement, provides input to the vestibular system. There are a variety of types of vestibular input, as well as the impact that it has on a person. This can vary depending on how their sensory systems process the information. Our vestibular system gives us information about movement and where our head is in relation to gravity. The vestibular system provides us with information about the speed and direction of our movement. This system provides the foundation for our balance reactions and has a strong connection to our postural control. There is also a connection between the vestibular system and a child’s ability to self-regulate. Depending on the type of vestibular input received, the effect on a child’s brain can be calming, organizing, or altering. The more intense the type of vestibular input, the more alerting the input will be for the child.
Depending on the child’s threshold for vestibular input, they may require a more intense type of vestibular input in order to register the input. For a child that is under-responsive to vestibular input, that child may need more intense vestibular input such as spinning or swinging in an orbital motion. Some children may also benefit from having their head inverted or being upside down for an increased registration of the vestibular input. For children who are over-responsive to vestibular input, starting with lower levels of input such as up and down (vertical) or front to back (linear) can help increase their tolerance of vestibular input.
Levels of Vestibular Input in Order of Increasing Intensity
1. Up and Down Movement
2. Front to Back Movement
3. Side to Side Movement
4. Diagonal Movement
5. Arc Movement
7. Inversion (upside down)
High Level of Arousal Protocol:
- For children with high levels of arousal the goal of swinging is to provide the sensory system with calming input.
- Children with high levels of arousal often respond best to slow, predictable, and rhythmic movement.
- Giving your child the ability to self direct their vestibular input may be beneficial in bringing them to the optimal level of arousal.
- Rhythmic front to back or side-to-side movement can provide calming input to the child.
Low Level of Arousal Protocol:
- For children with low levels of arousal the goal of swinging vestibular input is to alert the sensory system.
- Children with low levels of arousal often respond to vestibular input that is unpredictable, fast, and angular.
- Some children may respond best to input that is received in side lying, rather than in upright.
- Spinning can provide alerting input to the child to bring them to optimal level of arousal.
By Erin Christensen, OTD, OTR/L