What if I told you that regularly swinging, bouncing, or rocking your child can ease their irritability, quell their tears, and maybe even decrease seizures, in both number and severity? It sounds like a miracle. For some families, it is.
Have you ever wondered how you maintain balance, coordination, and spatial awareness? It’s due to the vestibular system. Hidden behind our eyes, deep within our ears, this very intricate system impacts everything from our ability to walk in a straight line to our sense of well-being.
It’s responsible for detecting motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation by interpreting our head movements. It then sends this information to our brain to keep us balanced. This allows us to navigate the world with ease.
Strabismus and the Vestibular System
Strabismus, known as “crossed eyes” in the U.S., or as a “squint” in the U.K., is a condition characterized by the misalignment of the eyes. When a child has strabismus, their eyes fail to work together in a coordinated manner, resulting in one eye deviating or turning inwards, outwards, upwards, or downwards. Strabismus is known to cause depth-perception problems and sometimes double vision. While strabismus primarily affects vision, not necessarily sight, it also impacts the vestibular system.
Naturally, if your child’s eyes are registering objects in double form, or if their eyes can’t seem to understand the location of an object, then the information sent through the vestibular system to the brain can leave them without the ability to maintain balance and coordination.
When the brain receives conflicting visual input, a state of sensory confusion is created. This discrepancy puts a strain on the vestibular system as it tries to compensate for the conflicting information, leading to symptoms like dizziness, vertigo, and poor balance.
The vestibular system and the visual system therefore have a close relationship, working in tandem to understand our surroundings.
How Does Swinging Help?
As any parent can tell you, all children are calmed by rocking or swinging. But there’s a scientific reason behind it, and it has to do with the vestibular system. These rhythmic movements align the vestibular system, promoting a sense of balance, stability, and relaxation. Rocking and swinging activate the canals in the inner ear, sending signals to the brain that provide a sense of equilibrium.
A child with strabismus greatly benefits from regular rocking and swinging, as their vestibular system needs more alignment than most. These movements help synchronize the vestibular system, alleviating the sensory confusion caused by misaligned eyes. This rhythmic input acts as a reset button, recalibrating the vestibular system and bringing it back into balance. While all children like to be rocked and swung, children with strabismus are more likely to have a disrupted vestibular system and therefore may be more irritable than most. Adding regular swinging into your routine will add comfort and relief, and may even keep many tears at bay, providing easier days for all.
“If you can’t manage a swing in the house, try gently bouncing on a yoga ball with your child in your arms. This motion has the same effect. A yoga ball also comes in handy for soothing your child while away from home. It’s amazing how quickly a yoga ball can calm a crying baby. At one point we had one in every room. Now that he’s bigger, we have a swing in our living room. It has become part of the furniture.”
Epilepsy and the Vestibular System
Many children with rare disorders have both strabismus and epilepsy. While the connection of the vestibular system with epilepsy isn’t fully understood, studies have shown that the vestibular system plays a critical role in seizure control.
Ensuring the vestibular system is in order can balance brain activity and potentially reduce both the occurrence as well as onset, and therefore frequency, of seizures. One mom we know swears swinging stops an oncoming seizure in its tracks.
Scientifically, doctors have seen abnormal vestibular functioning in individuals with epilepsy. The belief is that disruptions in the vestibular system may contribute to the development and/or severity of seizures.
All the more reason to add rocking, swinging, or bouncing to your child’s daily routine! See equipment options from Amazon here.
References and Further Reading:
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: What Is Adult Strabismus?
- NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Epilepsy and Seizures
- Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience: Epilepsy and the cortical vestibular system: tales of dizziness and recent concepts
- NIH National Library of Medicine: The Vestibular System in Cognitive and Memory Processes in Mammalians