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Friday, April 23, 2010

Vestibular System and Hyperactivity

It is so satisfying to me to learn something new, and then run across a reference to it from some other source.  Today I have a great example.  In my very first blog post in January, 2010, the subject was the vestibular system.  It is the part of the inner ear that does not process sound, but rather helps with balance, movement through space - even in the dark, response to gravity, sense of space, etc.  I loved learning that.

Last month I finished reading a book called "Emergence" by Temple Grandin.  She is a woman who has a Ph.D and has "recovered" from autism.  In one of the stories of her memory as a child, she relates how she went to a fair and ended up on a ride where one stands by an outside curving wall, the ride spins around very quickly, and then the floor falls away.  She described her fear and the overwhelming amount of sensory input.  Then, surprisingly, it became relaxing to her.  One sentence in the story caught my eye.  She referred to a study that has been done recently of the benefits of spinning in an office chair a few times a week for a child who is hyperactive and how it calms them.

Well, that got my attention! But she did not source the study or give any more details.  So I went to the Internet and have been reading many pages on the vestibular system and how it affects us.  I did not find the study that she mentioned, but I did find some interesting things.

"Children with overactive vestibular systems prefer slow movement, avoid risk-taking and avoid activities that require good balance and fast movement. They are fearful of falling, elevators, going up and down stairs and being tipped upside down."

Children with an underactive vestibular system "enjoy fast spinning and swinging. They enjoy jumping, partake in dangerous activity and move while sitting."  This constant movement is the body trying to wake up the vestibular system.

Just some food for thought. Kids who fidget in class are actually doing something good for their learning.

Do you think your vestibular system is just right, overactive, or underactive?  I definitely have an overactive one. I get motion sick in IMAX theaters.  When we went to see Avatar, I was looking at the exit because I was so sure I would need to run to the restroom.  In fact, in reading about this, I came across an article with information about others who have had the same problem.  I also get dizzy if my husband spins me around while we are dancing.

Here are some links for further reading.

Now you have heard something interesting.


  1. Some of the games my boys play make me ill just watching them. I definitely have an overactive one too! I love knowing this info!

  2. I am coming a bit late to this thread, but it so happens that I have, in the past had, an interest in the phenomenon of motion-induced calming effects. If anyone wishes to learn more, they should look up "sopite syndrome" on the web. The original paper was by Graybiel and Knepton in '76 and I wrote a review revisiting the top (Lawson & Mead '97, I think) some time after. There are others of relevance also, including one confirming the calming effects of rocking among the elderly.

    Happy learning!
    A Vestibular Researcher