The ‘unknown’ senses – Recognising when help is needed

Last week, I discussed two ‘unknown’ and invisible senses that we rely heavily on for our daily functioning. These are the vestibular and proprioceptive senses.  They are both implicated in children’s learning and ability to behave appropriately and so deserve our notice.  

There are signs that can be red flags to indicate when a child has not developed these senses fully.   If you see any of these, it might be necessary to refer to a neurodevelopmental practitioner for help.  Here are a few of those most commonly observed but be aware that there are other clues too.

The vestibular system, also known as our balance centre, is responsible for receiving information regarding our bodies movement in space, as well as, acceleration and deceleration of movement. The receptors in this system are located in the inner ear and are stimulated by changes in head position.  Some red flags are:

  • Dislikes activities requiring feet to leave the ground
  • Seeks out rapid movement, spinning, rolling, constant motion
  • Moves slowly or cautiously or avoids excess movement
  • Experiences motion sickness or dizziness
  • Appears to never become dizzy with excessive spinning
  • Poor safety awareness or impulsive jumping, running and/or climbing
  • Dislikes/prefers changes in positions
  • Frequent head tilting
  • Might rock in a chair or rock the body when seated

Proprioception informs us of our body position in space. The receptors for this system are found in our muscles and joints and they send information to our brain about where our body is and how much force we are using. Proprioception is important in building body awareness and achieving motor milestones.

Red flags for difficulty with proprioceptive processing:

  • Frequent crashing, bumping, climbing, falling, or jumping
  • Frequent kicking while sitting or stomping feet while walking
  • Bumps into you when walking together
  • Enjoys deep pressure or being “squished”; Prefers tight clothing
  • Uses too much force when writing or colouring
  • Plays roughly with other children
  • Misjudges the amount of force required to pick up objects – can break objects
  • Difficulty with sleep – prefers sleeping with another person, stuffed toys or being tightly wrapped in blankets
  • Sleepwalks or falls out of bed
  • Struggles to acquire number sense and maths skills
  • Has a poor sense of direction

Children with these underdeveloped sensory motor senses can often be labelled as hyperactive, clumsy, undisciplined, unfocused, disinterested and naughty.   We have to be cautious about labelling children too quickly and overlooking what might be the underlying causes of their behaviour. 



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