My 23-month old son is like most toddlers, he's busy and likes to climb. If I leave the room and return a few minutes later, I am likely to find him standing on a chair or behind the couch. Yet, even though he loves to be in motion, he sometimes still falls. The good thing is, he doesn't fall as often as he did when he had just learned to walk. But, somehow he gets "bobos" on his forehead at least once a month.
Many parents ask me "How do you help a toddler's balance skills?". Well, first of all, know that most toddlers still fall from time to time, but if a child is falling excessively then discuss this with the pediatrician. If that doctor feels that the toddler is falling excessively, then maybe a physical therapy (PT) evaluation will be suggested. PT can look at to see if there are any possible problems orthopedically, neurologically, developmentally, or with the child's level of strength. If these problems have been ruled out, then the child's sensory processing skills should be evaluated, in particular the vestibular system. This can be done by either a PT or occupational therapist (OT), depending upon the therapist's training. The vestibular system has receptors in the inner ear that detect which direction the head (and body) is moving. The possibilities for directions of movement include: up-down, front-to-back, side-to-side, upside down, and in circles. If a child has difficulties processing vestibular input, it may be because he over-reacts, under-reacts, or overly craves the input. Examples of overly reacting would be the child not wanting to be tossed in the air or being scared of swinging. An example of under-reacting, would be a child who seems lethargic and needs extra time running or jum[ing to detect that he is moving. In comparison, a child who overly craves vestibular input can be described as the "Energizer Bunny", and doesn't seem to tire of the motion. Although toddlers should like to move around some, eventually they should move onto to a sit down activity such as rolling cars, feeding a doll, or stacking blocks. A toddler who overly craves vestibular input, may not be able to focus while staying seated more than 20 seconds. Vestibular problems may also be because the child has poor: postural control, the ability to discriminate the input, or an ability to motor plan his actions. An additional problem could be visual processing and/or a poor ability to see far or near; if this is the case, the chid should be evaluated by an eye doctor. For more on understanding sensory processing problems in toddlers or older children visit: www.spdnetwork.org and www.sensorysmarts.com and for more on understanding sensory processing problems in babies visit: www.sense-ablebaby.com
Also, I wanted to share this article that I wrote almost 9 months ago on an informational site. I purposefully simplified the description of vestibular input so that the average person could understand it. It gives ideas on how to help with balance and vestibular processing for toddlers:
How to Improve a Toddler's Balance & Vestibular Processing Skills During Play | eHow.com
I purposefully kept the list of activities simple and short, and suggestions are things that can be done anywhere not just in a therapy clinic. Feel free to comment on any fun ideas you have found that help to develop balance and stimulate the vestibular system. The more ideas, the better!