Get your head around vestibular processing!

Vestibular input is the signal generated by the semicircular canals and otoliths in our head in response to movement. Our vestibular organs “fire” as our head position changes. Most people think of vestibular input in relation maintaining our balance.

The vestibular system, it turns out, might well be the most important system in the whole body for a Speech and Language Therapist. The contribution it makes to individuals being able to manage their balance is only the tip of the iceberg.

The information which comes from the vestibular system links in to the brain in at least eight different ways. It contributes to our ability to move our eyes and stabilise our gaze to be able to notice and read non-verbal communication, and to track the speakers in a group conversation to understand turn taking. It plays a role in our awareness of where objects are in relation to our bodies so we can, for example, orientate a picture card or symbol so it is the right way round to be able to make sense of the content.

It contributes to our ability to reach out to use PECS and other token communication systems. It has a role in how we understand sequence and rhythmicity, and even in language development.

When our vestibular processing is poor, it can be harder for us to build on core motor skills to develop clear left- or righthandedness; to use each side of our body independently; and to bring our hands together to work at or across the midline point of our body, for example, to use Makaton to support our communication.

More importantly, vestibular processing is often linked to our ability to be calm, organised and grounded in the moment: to have the available attentional and cognitive capacity to take part in listening and learning.

For Speech and Language Therapists, the way your clients’ vestibular systems are functioning is already having a considerable impact on the success of your therapy sessions, whether you are aware of it or not. When you can recognise and adapt for vestibular processing differences, you’re putting your client in the best possible place to be able to benefit from your input.

Where are you with understanding how to support vestibular function in the context of your SLT sessions? Sign up for Amy Stephens’s webinar session – free for Speech and Language Therapists – to learn more. Full details of the free webinar and other training opportunities are on the Work With Me section of my website.

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