The vestibular system, a system that is not commonly talked about – but has already begun to develop in the womb as the foetus is rocked back and forth by the mothers movements, maturing from birth until the ages of 16 years old.
It is the brain’s “traffic controller” for all the sensory information it receives. For example, it helps to integrate things seen by the eye with the movement of the head, allowing the body to remain balanced and stable instead of falling over. It is crucial for good balance, visual tracking, and motor development of the child.
Vertigo, the feeling of you or your surroundings moving, is one of the main symptoms of vestibular issues. You might notice your child having balance problems, constant clumsiness, or having difficulty scanning a line of text or changing head positions to see something (eg from book to whiteboard). When the vestibular system is not properly functioning, they might find it hard to “hold themselves up” properly – choosing to lie down, or slouch over the desk.
“Adults can readily report and clarify vertigo symptoms, but this is not the case for young children. For very young children who cannot describe what they are feeling, vertigo may be demonstrated by clinging to parent or caregiver, refusing to stand up, or falling asleep. The older child may say that “the house is moving” or “I am falling.” (Vestibular.org)
Neck development is also an important part of a child’s growth. An infant develops from top to bottom – and the strength of the neck has to be there for proper control of the rest of the body, which is why tummy time has been advocated even by 2 weeks old! By 3 months old, a baby should be able to lift their head up steadily during tummy time, and eventually start reaching for items by 5 to 6 months old without dropping their head.
If by 6 months, a head lag exists when you bring your child up from lying down to sitting it could mean several things such as a problem with the musculoskeletal, vestibular, visual, or neurological systems. Despite any of the causes, poor neck control is an early sign that a child’s nervous system is not developing correctly and a developmental delay exists that will have to be addressed.
W-sitting is also a concern, and an external factor that could influence your child’s development if you notice that your child prefers that position for extended periods of time. Although it is normal a child to move in and out of positions, W-sit included, preferring that position over others could mean that they are doing this in order to make up for weaknesses in their hips or trunk as W-sitting provides more stability for them with less muscle activation.
Why would this need to be assessed and corrected? Several reasons:
- Muscles around the legs could adapt to being short and tight, affecting motor coordination and balance down the road,
- Sitting in that position reduces the ability of the child to twist and turn their upper body to reach for things, indirectly inhibiting development of their upper body and certain hand coordination skills,
- It makes it difficult for children to develop the strength of their trunk muscles when weight is not being shifted side to side as if would be if they were sitting in other positions. The trunk muscles do not need to work as hard to keep them upright with the legs in W-sit, and you might notice your child having a tendency to slouch more.
Those are just a few of the commonly overlooked things when it comes to determining if your child is developing well or not. If you’ve noticed several symptoms mentioned here in your child, bring them in for a check with us, as a healthy childhood sets them up for healthy growth further down the road.