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Vestibular System Dysfunction: Ten Red Flags!

Are you worried your child might have vestibular system dysfunction?

Kiddos with sensory processing disorder, those on the autism spectrum, and even children with no diagnoses at all can have vestibular system dysfunction.

If left untreated, it can negatively impact your child’s physical and emotional development. Let’s take a look and see if your child is at risk for vestibular system dysfunction.

Our Vestibular System

Is your kid the one swinging the highest on the playground? Can she spin forever without getting dizzy?

On the other hand, is your child cautious or hesitant to join in on the playground? Does he get carsick or fear movement that most children his age enjoy?

If so, your child may have vestibular system dysfunction!

Our vestibular system is the sensory system that responds to motion or change in head position. Our movement receptors are located in our inner ear. They tell our brain how fast we are moving, what direction we are going, and where we are in space.

If a child’s vestibular system isn’t working properly, they may crave and seek movement so much so that it interferes with daily routines.

At the other end of the spectrum, they may be so fearful of movement that they avoid activities important for their development.

Vestibular System Dysfunction: Hyposensitivity to Movement (Under-Responsiveness)

Kiddos with an under-responsive vestibular system love to move and groove! In fact, they often quite literally can’t get enough.

These children may not be able to register just how fast they are spinning or just how high they are swinging. They may love the feeling of falling so much that they seek it out to the point of it being dangerous.

As a result, these children may appear hyperactive or even be mislabeled ADHD.

Red Flags of Vestibular System Dysfunction: An Under-Responsive Vestibular System

  1. Craves fast, spinning, and intense movement experiences (i.e., roller-coasters, swinging higher and longer than anyone else on playground)

  2. Always on he move – difficulty sitting still (i.e., running, spinning, jumping, hopping instead of walking)

  3. Can spin endlessly without getting dizzy

  4. Loves to climb and fall, sometimes without regards to own safety

  5. Enjoys being upside-down and/or being thrown in the air

Vestibular System Dysfunction: Hypersensitivity to Movement (Over-Responsiveness)

Kiddos with an over-responsive vestibular system often fear movement activities that most children enjoy.

They may appear timid, or disengaged. They may even be labeled depressed, or lazy.

On the other hand, some children may demonstrate extreme distress, tantrums, or even try to flee from movement activities making them appear oppositional or aggressive.

Red Flags of Vestibular System Dysfunction: An Over-Responsive Vestibular System

  1. Is fearful of feet leaving the ground

  2. May seem clumsy and/or lose balance easily

  3. Avoids or dislikes playground equipment (i.e., slides, swings, ladders, merry-go-rounds)

  4. Startles easily or feels like they are falling when moved by someone else (i.e., being pushed up to the table)

  5. Doesn’t like being tipped backwards, sideways, or upside-down

Does Your Child Have These Red Flags of Vestibular System Dysfunction?

Reach out to your local Occupational Therapist! They can help!


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