Sensory – Balance in more detail

Have you ever wondered how your body knows if you’re spinning or moving? Well, that’s where your vestibular system comes into play. 

Inside your ears, there are some tiny, sensitive structures called vestibular organs. They’re like little detectives that tell your brain about your body’s position and movements. These organs work together with our eyes, muscles and joints to help you coordinate and stay steady.

Imagine you are on a swing. When you start swinging back and forth, this sense detects the movement. It can feel changes in speed and direction. This information is then sent directly to your brain which then knows exactly what is happening.

Your vestibular sense also tells your brain if you’re spinning around. After spinning in circles and stopping, you might feel dizzy or wobbly. This is because your sense of trying to catch up and tell your brain that you have stopped spinning.

If you walk along a narrow beam, your body needs to stay stable, and your vestibular sense plays a big role in keeping you upright. It works with your muscles to make tiny adjustments, so you don’t fall off.

You might be able to ride a bike or skateboard without constantly looking down. The vestibular sense is working behind the scenes, helping you stay aware of your body’s position. It tells you if you’re leaning too much to one side or if you need to shift your weight to stay balanced.

Sometimes, your vestibular sense can get a little confused. Have you ever been on a roller coaster or a bumpy car ride and felt queasy? That’s because the movement is so fast and intense that your vestibular organs have a hard time keeping up. It’s like they’re sending mixed signals to your brain, which can  make you feel dizzy or sick.

In everyday life, your vestibular sense is constantly at work, helping you to move and stay coordinated. It’s what allows you to walk, run, jump and even dance! It’s like having a built-in GPS for your body.


 
Vestibular and autistic people

For some autistic people, the vestibular sense might work a little differently.

Some autistic people have a higher sensitivity, which means they can feel movement more intensely than others. If you are on a swing, you could be really dizzy or overwhelmed by swinging that most people seem ok with.

You can also have a lower sensitivity, meaning you may not feel movement as strongly as others. You might need more movement or stimulation to feel your body’s position and balance properly. You may enjoy spinning or swinging more than other activities because it helps your balance sense work better. You may find it hard to sit still as your body is telling you to move a lot.


 
Vestibular and you

Think about your own vestibular sense. There may be different activities that are helpful for you, depending on your sensitivity.

Higher sensitivity 
  • Take breaks from activities when you need to/ if you start to feel overwhelmed. 
  • Rock in a rocking chair, swing or hammock – back and forth slow/ rhythmic movement often has a calming effect.
  • Try out yoga to experiment with different movements and see what you are comfortable with.  
Lower sensitivity
  • Jumping on trampoline
  • Doing star jumps
  • Hang upside down on a climbing frame
  • Ride a bike or scooter
  • Bounce on a yoga ball
  • Spin! 
  • Have brain/ movement breaks when you need them – maybe every 30 minutes
  • Use a wobble cushion
  • Cardiovascular activity e.g. swimming, running, walking
Writing led by: Andy Smith, Founder of Spectrum Gaming
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