Vestibular Stimulation and Seizures

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The vestibular system helps us to understand the position of our head and body in gravity-bound space. It gives us information about which way is up and which direction we are going. It assists our body with balance, spatial orientation and maintaining a stable visual field, even when we are moving. Since movement is a part of everything that we do, the vestibular system is always working in the background.

Many children experience challenges in the processing of vestibular information. Some children seek out movement while others actively avoid movement experiences. Activities that assist the vestibualr system in learning balanced modualtion that contributes to daily function can be an integral component of a sensory processing program.

But what about children who experience seizures? This is a very common question asked by therapists. Typically, it is a moving visual array that can trigger seizure provocation and not necessarily the vestibular stimulation itself. Thereby, swinging, spinning and fast movement can create problems in that naturally the world is moving in relationship to the body. Rotation seems to be the greatest stressor on the nervous system and should not be used with clients who have known photic-evoked seizures, unless all of the light can be kept from the eyes. Children who seizure but do not experience a photic component to their profile can have controlled vestibular input introduced into their experience, but in a graded and slow manner that allows the therapist to carefully observe the child’s reaction. Watch carefully for signs of sensory overload. These signs can occur even with the best observation and clinical reasoning. Examples of behaviors that signify overload are: yawning, changes in skin color, headache, changes in heart rate or respiration, pupil dialation, prolonged dizziness or nausea. Remember that vestibular stimulation is cumulative and that a reaction to the input provided during therapy can occur later outside of the session.

Offset over-stimulation with immediate vigorous, intensive, proprioceptive input. Such activities as

  • Running, crawling or jumping vigorously around the room.

  • Have the child place their hands on their head and press down while jumping in place. Combine with sucking vigorsously with lips sealed.

  • Place ice cubes into the client’s hands, at the base of skull and on the temples.

  • Have the child push into a crash matt or wall with their entire body as hard as they can.

  • Postion the child in prone on forearms and have them blow vigorously with resistance.

These activities are modulating in effect!

When in doubt discuss the use of vestibular stimulation with the child’s physician!

Dale Bially