How to Support Vestibular Avoiders

Vestibular avoiders are highly sensitive to movement and tend to become overwhelmed by everyday activities such as play and travel. Avoiders often have extreme or upsetting reactions to even very mild stimulation. As a result, they can appear withdrawn or defensive and have trouble fitting in with their peers. They also frequently experience symptoms associated with anxiety disorders and engage in repetitive self-soothing behaviors.

See below for some ways to identify and support vestibular avoiders.

Vestibular Avoiders May:

  • Prefer sedentary activities, such as video games or reading.
  • Avoid swings, slides, monkey bars, and other playground equipment.
  • Feel off-balance or unsteady on slanted or uneven floors.
  • Become fearful when tilted backwards or are unable to touch the ground. 
  • Experience motion sickness or headaches after intense movement.

How to Support Your Vestibular Avoider:

  • Don’t lift, tilt, or move your child without giving a warning.
  • Hold your child’s hand while walking to provide grounding and support.
  • Use a footstool if your child’s feet can’t comfortably touch the ground while sitting.
  • Provide calm alternatives to playground activities, such as hiking or catch.
  • Teach your child to focus on a static point inside the vehicle to avoid motion sickness.
  • Work on calming strategies and develop a plan for how to exit overwhelming situations.
  • Provide a quiet place to lie down after motion sickness or headaches.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

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