- Poor Concentration?
- Inability to pay attention?
- A lack of coordination?
- Poor gross- and/or fine motor skills?
- Poor organisation?
- Erratic behaviour?
- Mood swings?
- Motion sickness?
Or, does your child have:
- An unusual fear of motion or changes of space (swings/being up high)?
- An unusual preference for fast moving or risky activities?
- An under-developed mid-line?
- Uncertainty over using their left or right hand?
Your child could have an inefficient vestibular system…. and this is a system that your child needs for learning.
What is the Vestibular system?
The vestibular system is your child’s movement and position sense. It is located in the inner ear, and we are far more familiar with this sense than we realise.
For example, if your child spins around a few times and then stops, they may feel dizzy. This is because the fluid in their vestibular system spins around, and gives their brain information that they are still spinning.
Your child’s vestibular system has connections to many different parts of the nooks and crannies of the inner workings of their body. It has an impact on emotions, muscle tone, level of arousal (alertness) and vital organs and understanding how your child’s vestibular system works could be the key to supporting your child’s learning and behaviour.
How it works
The vestibular system forms your child’s ‘anchor’. It tells them where they are in relation to the rest of the world. It gives them information about how their body is moving. Is it moving forward, backward, sideways or spinning? It also tells them what position they are in – standing up, lying down, jumping or falling.
Your child gets this information when they move their head: either out of the upright or when they start to spin around. Head movements cause the fluid in your child’s vestibular system to move, and therefore activates the system to give your child sensory information.
The vestibular system is a ‘use it or lose it’ system. As a child, you might have loved to ride roller-coasters, spin around or jump high on the trampoline. Unfortunately, as an adult, you might now be overly sensitive to this movement and it may cause you to become excessively dizzy or feel sick. Primarily, this is because, as adults, we spend most of our time in an upright position, so our vestibular system is not activated as much as when we were children jumping, spinning and rolling.
As a paediatric occupational therapist, I am constantly jumping, rolling and spinning with my playful pint-sized clients, so even though I am an adult, I have not ‘lost’ this skill. My vestibular system is quite well integrated and I very seldom become excessively dizzy or feel sick from movement.
What does this mean for your child’s learning?
Academically, children who struggle to integrate their vestibular, visual and auditory systems may experience difficulty with:
- Handwriting (formation/reversals/spacing/work attack)
How can the Astronaut Program help?
The Astronaut Program is a therapy tool that supports children who struggle with vestibular processing issues.
It uses sound, movement (rotation) and eye exercises to help children to improve the integration of their Auditory (sound), Vestibular (movement and position) and Visual systems.
These three systems work together as a triad in your child’s body and perform many important tasks by helping them understand the three dimensional space that surrounds them.
The Astronaut Program assists the functioning of that triad, making the sights and sounds of your child’s world more meaningful and easier to remember.
How does the Astronaut Program work?
The Astronaut Program exposes your child to rotation and linear movement to improve the vestibular system’s ability to function. The more it is used, the more ‘tolerant’ of motion your child’s vestibular system becomes.
In addition to the movement, children who participate in the Astronaut program do brief daily eye exercises that are designed to improve the visual system’s ability to control the eyes. These exercises are often done in conjunction with rhythmic music and sounds, which help the child to organise and orient their thoughts and actions.
What changes can be observed after the Astronaut Program?
Every child is different, and each child will react to the Astronaut Program in a different way. At Kids First, we have seen many children develop better skills after completing this program. Parents, teachers, speech pathologists and children following the Astronaut Program have told us that children have experienced:
- Improved attention
- Improved organisation and ability to start work independently
- Understanding of maths concepts that previously had been very difficult to teach
- Age appropriate spelling
- Improved handwriting (neater, fewer reversals, better spacing and positioning)
- Improve reading (improved fluency, accuracy and speed)
- Decrease in / elimination of motion sickness
Keep in mind, though, that the Astronaut Program is not a ‘magic wand’ and these improvements are an accumulated list of those observed in a number of clients over the years. Astronaut works best when children, parents and professionals work together and when children are able to practice what they have learned.
What should I do if I think my child may benefit from the Astronaut Program?
If you think that your child might benefit from the Astronaut Program, contact an Occupational Therapist with knowledge of sensory processing difficulties. They should conduct a parent interview and may assess your child.
If it appears as though your child’s vestibular functioning may be part of the reason for their difficulties, the therapist may recommend the Astronaut Program.
However, if your child experiences muscle strength difficulties and / or other sensory difficulties, these are likely to be worked on prior to starting the Astronaut Program. This will give your child the best chance of success when meeting the demands of Astronaut.
Remember, the Astronaut Program works on the foundation level difficulties that often cause a child’s difficulty with ‘higher function’ skills (like reading, spelling and maths).
This means that, once the Astronaut Program has been completed, it may be appropriate to commence Speech Pathology sessions and/or extra tutoring in order for your child to ‘catch up’ in their areas of difficulty. These extra interventions are usually more effective after the foundation level difficulties of vestibular-visual-auditory triad integration have been ‘cleaned up’.
Paediatric Occupational Therapist
2014 Kids First Children’s Services
Kids First’s qualified Occupational Therapists are experienced ‘Astronauts’ who have helped many children to improve their behaviour and learning. The Astronaut Program is not for everyone, however the results for those who have participated at Kids First have been excellent, with parents reporting big changes in their child’s confidence and skills.
Contact Kids First’s Brookvale centre on (02) 9938 5419 to make an appointment to discuss the Astronaut Program with one of our OTs.