Swinging, or any kind of movement, provides input to the vestibular system. There are several types of vestibular input, and the impact that this input has on a person can vary depending on how their sensory systems process the information.
Our vestibular system gives us information about movement and where our head is positioned in relation to gravity. This system provides us with information about the speed and direction of our movement through space, provides the foundation for our balance reactions, and has a strong connection to our postural control. There is also a connection between the vestibular system and self-regulation. The effect of vestibular input on a child’s brain can be calming and organizing or alerting, depending on the type of input. The greater the intensity of the input, the more alerting the input will be for the child.
Depending on the child’s threshold for vestibular input, they may require a more intense type of vestibular input in order to register it. A child who is under-responsive to vestibular input can benefit from a higher intensity of vestibular input, such as spinning or swinging in an orbital motion, to alert their nervous system and improve their body awareness. Some children may also benefit from having their head inverted or being positioned upside-down to increase registration of the vestibular input. For children who are over-responsive to vestibular input, starting with lower levels of input, such as up-and-down (vertical) or front-to-back (linear), can help improve their tolerance of vestibular input.
Depending on your child’s level of arousal, swinging in certain directions or patterns can provide vestibular input that is either alerting or calming. The following are suggested strategies for providing vestibular input in response to a child’s level of arousal:
Low Level of Arousal Protocol:
- For children with low levels of arousal, the goal of swinging is to alert the vestibular system.
- Children with low levels of arousal often respond to vestibular input that is unpredictable, arrhythmic, fast, and angular.
- Some children may respond best to input that is received in a side-lying or inverted position, rather than in upright.
- Spinning can provide alerting input to the child and help them maintain an optimal level of arousal.
High Level of Arousal Protocol:
- For children with high levels of arousal, the goal of swinging is to provide the vestibular system with calming input.
- Children with high levels of arousal often respond best to slow, predictable, and rhythmic movement. typically in a linear fashion.
- Giving your child the ability to self-direct their swinging can help bring them to their optimal level of arousal.
- Rhythmic linear (front-to-back or side-to-side) movement can provide calming input to the child.