Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Makes No Sense

Recently Konner had an issue at school where he didn’t want to bend over to pick up a piece of paper on the floor. While this occurrence has happened at home many times I never thought much of it. I wrote it off as Konner being a little defiant or lazy. However, one of his therapists brought it to our attention recently that it may be more than just rebelliousness. It could be an issue with his vestibular sense.

Like most, when this was told to me I had no idea what vestibular sense was. After some research, from a great source, I found out that it is something we use constantly, but never even pay attention to – until it’s out of balance (no pun intended).

A majority of the information I found was in two excellent resources for any parent of an autistic child. “The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder” and “The Out-of Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder”
 by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. is packed with great data and advice for any parent, but especially one with a child on the spectrum.

Most of us have heard of the five senses: touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing. Vestibular Sense, according to Kranowitz, “is the inefficient processing in the brain of sensations received through the inner ear. The child with a vestibular problem has difficulty processing information about gravity, balance, and movement through space.”

It affects:

·         Gravitational security

·         Movement and balance

·         Muscle tone

·         Bilateral coordination

·         Praxis (motor planning)

·         Vision and hearing

·         Emotional security

As you can see this can cause havoc in the life of someone who’s senses are already completely mixed up. The difficulty that I found was determining if the vestibular was what had caused the other sensory issues in the first place. Kind of like the egg and the chicken dilemma.

There are several different types of children with vestibular dysfunction, according to the book, and some ways to look for signs. There are children who are overresponsive, underresponsive, seeks extra movement, poor discrimination of movement, and have dyspraxia.

The children who are overresponsive tend to overreact negatively and emotionally to ordinary movement. They dislike physical activities, avoid playground equipment, are slow-moving, and don’t like to move their head much.

The child who is underreponsive tends to lack inner drive to move actively, doesn’t object to being moved, swings for a long time without dizziness, doesn’t protect themselves well when falling.

The child who seeks extra movement craves intnse, fast and spinning movement, are thrill seekers, and moves constantly.

The child with poor discrimination of movement tends to fall frequently while moving or standing, becomes easily confused when turning, and is unaware of how much is too much when swinging and twirling.

The child with dyspraxia tends to have difficulty making unfamiliar movement sequences, has difficulty with gross motor skills, and moves awkwardly.

These are just a few signs. The book tells many more.

Reading through the sections of the books dedicated specifically to vestibular sensory opened my eyes to things going on with Konner, but it did cause a little more confusion.

Many of the techniques that the occupational therapists use are to help stimulate their senses. This includes joint compressions, which I wrote about previously. This is because children on the spectrum need this stimulation to truly feel their extremities, according to the book.

There are other suggestions in “The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun” book.  One is to use a t-shaped stool to help the child balance. This is a pretty simple tool to make and is fun for them to use. “Row Boat” is a technique of sitting on the floor and pushing the soles of your feet together, grabbing hands and pushing and pulling. Horseback rides, knee rides, wheelbarrows and piggyback rides are all simple and traditional ways play with your child and to help their sensory issues. Trampolines are also a great tool to help with all types of sensory issues.

The advice in the book from a therapist says, “I usually remind parents that any vestibular activity should be undertaken carefully and only for short periods of time at first, until the child builds a greater tolerance for the sensation.”

This stimulation is why many children with vestibular issues enjoy thrill rides. This may include going fast on the merry-go-round, going high on a swing, riding roller coasters, and fast rides at an amusement park.

This is part of why I felt Konner may have this issue as well. If anyone remembers the story about our trip to Worlds of Fun you will know that Konner wanted to ride one of the biggest thrill rides there. He loved it.

If you feel like your child might be having similar issues it’s a good idea to talk to your occupational therapist, or physical therapist to see if they have other suggestions on how to help.

Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.

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