The vestibular sensory receptors inside the inner ears react to changes in head position and movement. Children (and adults) with vestibular based Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) may over-respond or become easily overstimulated by movement, especially when the head is not in the vertical plane or movement is accelerating or decelerating. These individuals are sometimes called “sensory avoiders”. Other children may have the opposite challenge, seeking huge amounts of movement when compared to typically developing peers. They are sometimes called “sensory seekers”.
The boy shown on the horse is resistant to the supine position, both while stationary or moving on a horse. He has decreased body awareness, muscle tone and balance. He also slumps while sitting, leans on others when given the opportunity and requires frequent assistance to respond to movement and avoid falling off the horse. Gradual introduction to positions where his head is in various planes helps to desensitize his vestibular sensory system and better control his body. He also loves being on the horse, so I only introduced these vestibular challenges for short amounts of time…. and very gradually.
The little girl in the video cried when asked to lay supine on the horse. The supine and prone positions placed her head in a plane that she was uncomfortable with due to atypical vestibular sensory processing. However, she loved the vibrating cushion and gradually tolerated laying her head on it while the horse was moving uphill or downhill, in circles or while accelerating/ decelerating….. Both of these children benefited from occupational therapy designed to increase tolerance for movement while normalizing muscle tone and promoting postural control and motor planning skills.
Learn more about treating sensory processing disorders and how to promote hand skills using hippotherapy in the following post:
Learn more about sensory modulation disorders ( a subset of SPD) in the following post:
Learn about the power of vibration as a proprioceptive sensory tool in the following blog post: