Future Reflections         Winter 2011

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Vestibular Stimulation

by Jennifer Stevens

Reprinted with Permission from WonderBaby Newsletter, April 2010

Gavin bounces in a jumper swing with toys attached all around the tray.From the Editor: Most children, blind and sighted, enjoy bouncing, spinning, and other activities that help them develop a sense of their position in the environment. Such activities are examples of vestibular stimulation--they stimulate the vestibular sensors in the inner ear. Young blind children sometimes become dependent on these self-stimulating movements, which can turn into entrenched habits or mannerisms. In this article Jennifer Stevens describes how her family provides vestibular stimulation for her seventeen-month-old blind son through an assortment of enjoyable play activities.

We are flying by the seat of our pants with what we know;
Everything we learn, is as we go.

We find a problem, do some research, network with other parents of blind children, and figure out what to do. One big challenge for us every day is to provide enough vestibular stimulation for Gavin. I will share with you some of the ways we have found for meeting this need.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Gavin loves this song, and we sing it about fifty times a day (no joke!) He sings it to himself, too. When I hear him, that is my cue that he needs some vestibular stimulation. Typically he stands while I hold his hands. I've also tried using a sitting position to give him a different sense of movement. We "row" back and forth throughout the song. It becomes a game when he starts to jump up and down mid-song and I sing the words faster. When the song is over he jumps and claps and says, "YAY!" It's a big production, and then we start over again. This is something we do all the time, not just at home. It has saved us when we are out shopping, at a wedding, or in an area that is unfamiliar to him. Best part, it's free!

Jumper: We thought Gavin was over his Jumper months ago, until Daddy tried moving it to the garage. Gavin heard the music and went wild! Now he uses the Jumper every other day. It is still great for him, even at seventeen months. He jumps up and down with great force and laughs the whole time. We will keep using it until he is done with it or outgrows it. Until then, he can jump away!

Side to Side: I made up this game with Gavin one day while we were playing on the ground. He stands up, holding my hand, and we sing the "Side to Side Song." All I do is say "Siiiiide to siiiiide"--trying to carry a tune, mind you. (I'm glad he doesn't care that Mommy has a horrible voice!) When I say "side to side," he moves side to side. Then I say, "Up, down," and he jumps up and down. Then it's on to "back and forth," and he moves back and forth. We do it fast and slow, and I mix it up. He loves it! It's a game, but he is getting used to direction and where he is within his space. We play a similar game with Gavin sitting in his wagon or his little car.

Sit 'n' Spin: We bought a Sit 'n' Spin for Gavin months ago, but he was still too small for it. Now that he's bigger, it's great for him and provides fun times for him and his older brother to play together.

Ding Dong: My Grandpa did this with us grandkids when we were little. My husband and I have carried on the tradition and have been doing it with both kids since they were very small.

Gavin lies on his back on the floor, and I tell him to give me his feet and hands. With my left hand I hold his right hand and his right foot at the ankle. With my right hand I get his left hand and left ankle. I pick him up off the floor and swing him up and down between my legs. The song goes like this, "Ding dong, ding dong, one, two, three!" At three I gently put him back on the floor. This game goes on until he stops requesting "MORE," usually after about the twentieth time! We build up the anticipation with the counting and put a lot of emphasis on the count. When Gavin is a little older we'll try letting go of his feet at "Three!" Both of our boys love this game, and we are usually pretty beat after it's over!

Bucket Swing: We installed a bucket swing in our garage. We are usually outside every day when Landon, Gavin's brother, gets home from school or right before dinner. Landon rides his bike or scooter and Gavin swings. The bucket swing is great. It's cheap and all we needed to buy were two eyehooks to install. He gets to be outside in the fresh air and puts his hands up when he swings (which is great to keep them away from his eyes).

Windows Down: This is a lifesaver when we are driving. It's pretty boring for little ones to sit strapped in their car-seats. A car trip can be even harder for a blind baby who does not have the option of looking out the window. Even if we put his favorite music on, Gavin is likely to begin eye-pressing. But he loves to have the back windows down and feel the wind against his face and hair. He puts his hands up to feel the wind go through his little fingers. When I tell him we are getting ready to go in the car, I make it a big production and say "We're going to put the windows down!" He instantly laughs and puts his hands up. He can't wait for car rides!

Airplane: This is usually something Daddy does with Gavin. Gavin is getting bigger, and I'm afraid I'm going to drop him. Daddy picks him up under the tummy, asks him to spread out his arms and legs and act like an airplane. We've added some big up-and-down and swooping movements for additional vestibular stimulation. Gavin and his dad go flying all through the house. Warning: make sure your child hasn't just eaten or he/she may get a case of the air sickies!

Gavin displays some self-stimulating mannerisms, and these movement games help us rechannel his energy. He does eye pressing, he will rock back and forth, and he has even started head banging on the floor. Whenever these behaviors begin, we try to redirect him. When he rocks I scoop him up and we will do one of our songs, or I ask if he wants to swing. His head banging started when he began to use communication but couldn't effectively convey what he needed. He will usually start by getting irritated for a few minutes. If his needs aren't met, he will bang his head on the floor. Usually this happens when he is getting bored with his toys. We redirect him, and this has been very effective. Each time we redirect him, it works. We don't tell him no, we just point him in a different direction and he is usually happy with it.

A great thing about these games is that Gavin's older brother can play many of them with him. The games provide great bonding and play time between them. Even though Landon is offering stimulation for him, it's done through play.

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