Today my family of four along with my sister-in-law went to the carnival. Within the "kiddy" section, there were simple rides like the carousel but there were some more gravity-defying rides as well. My husband enjoyed riding the rides with my 6 year old daughter while my 21-month old son stayed in the stroller and I took pictures of everyone. But I did manage to get on one ride with my daughter, and boy was it fun! It was a ride that went in a circlular pattern while the kids/adults layed two people to an "airplane". While on our airplane, we were lying on our bellies and strapped in from behind. Not only did the ride go in a forward circular pattern, but it also went up/down making you feel as if you were "losing your stomach". Now, I grabbed my little one's hand, because I was thinking she may freak out. But I was wrong, she squealed with laughter. She had so much fun! And she should have. Once kids are of a certain age, they should think it is so much fun to move in various ways against gravity. It is not uncommon to see a toddler trying to be upside down off a couch or jumping off of furniture!
There are five directions to move within space: up/down, forward/backward, circles (rotary and axial), upside down, and sideways. Swinging on a swingset back and forth is a simple way to move, whereas riding the carnival ride today as described above was more complicated because it combined movements. When we move in these various directions, vestibular receptors in the inner ear are stimulated. The vestibular system can be a tricky sense. When a person has an ear infection or vertigo, this system can go haywire and throw the person's balance off. It is quite scary to feel off balance. That is why some kids with vestibular disorders don't like carnival rides. In fact, some would probably whether do anything but get on that ride!
If you have a child who doesn't like to play at the park on the swings, slides, or climbing devices, it is possible that he has difficulties with vestibular processing. If the child also has a gross motor delay or falls often, this should be discussed with the child's physician. Physical or occupational therapy services may be necessary to help the child. It may seem trivial when the child is only 2 years old, but if the problem is not corrected, the child ends up being a grade schooler who can't ride a bike or roller skate with his peers. He may also be the type who is clumsy, making him be the last one chosen to play games during school recess such as for soccer or dodge ball. If you suspect that your child has problems with vestibular processing, it is definately worth checking out.
Some other signs of the problem could include: low muscle tone, delayed development with two handed activities, clingy to parent when should be playing with peers (especially at birthday parties), fatigues easily, scared to sit in chair or on potty due to dangling feet, short attention span, and delayed eye-hand coordination. Those were all symptoms of kids who are over-responsive to vestibular input or who have sensory based motor disorders. Kids who are under-responsive are more lethargic and passive. Kids who are sensory seekers are described as the energizer bunnies and can never seem to get enough movement unless they are asleep. Some of these kids are even known to tire out the family's energetic dog! They tend to jump from high surfaces, fidget, and spin around. All of this over activity needs to be directed, especially if the child has a language or fine-motor delay. These children may or may not have a sensory processing disorder (SPD, AKA sensory integration dysfuncton), but should be checked out by a therapist. I don't think that every child with the above-mentioned symptoms necessarily has a vestibular disorder, there could be other things going on including neurological deficits, other disabilities, or environmental factors. An example of an environmental factor is lack of or decreased stimulation such as being at home all day with a mom who is on bedrest and can't help the child get the necessary exercise he needs, so he overly seeks out movement such as jumping off of high surfaces. This is the case where it is well worth it to pay extra for a young babysitter to come over to play or to invest in a mini-trampoline for the living room. So, not every referral to a therapist will mean the child needs intervention, but maybe at least some ideas can be generated for helping the child.