What Is The Vestibular System?

The vestibular system system is located within the inner ear. It is physically attached to the cochlea (the part of the ear that senses sound). Like the cochlea, it is fluid-filled and lined with hair-like structures.

The structure of the vestibular system is made up of three semi-circular canals and two sac-like structures called the saccule and utricle. The entire mechanism is quite small and could sit on a ten pence piece.

An intact vestibular system is necessary for:

  • Marking your position in space…. “you are here” in the map of your life
  • Balance
  • Attention
  • The ability to localise sound
  • Motor coordination
  • The ability of your eyes to scan for reading
  • Emotional regulation

The vestibular system is the vestibule (or entry) to the brain. It feeds the reticular activating system, the part of the brain that is responsible for maintaining a level of alertness.

The vestibular system is also hardwired to coordinate with vision and hearing, to create the synthesis of a triad of input to give one perception of where you are in space.

Signs Of Vestibular Dysfunction

There are numerous behaviours one might observe in the classroom that could be indicative of vestibular dysfunction.

Think of these categories:


  • Slumping in seat Resting head on the desk
  • Tipping back and balancing on two chair legs
  • Propping or leaning against furniture or walls
  • Falling off chair


  • Moving all the time OR seldom moving/ poor endurance
  • Fidgeting/trouble sitting still
  • Bumping into walls, desks other children
  • Falling or general clumsiness
  • Difficulty balancing on one foot or walking on balance beam
  • Trouble judging space for social interactions (“in your personal space”)
  • Difficulty with handwriting 


  • Skipping lines when reading
  • Trouble copying information from the blackboard
  • Trouble kicking or catching balls


  • Ability to attend to work, play, lessons is impaired
  • Very quiet, “spacey,” easy to overlook
  • Loud, over-active
  • Trouble staying “just right” (either high or low) 

Strategies That Can Help :

All children are different so consulting with a qualified OT is a must.  Below are some strategies that may help:


Extracted from “You Spin Me Round”: The Vestibular System in the Classroom by  Ann Stacey, OTR, and Susan Dykema, OTR