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Why does my child not like having their feet off the ground? Can my child actually fear movement?

Nov 4, 2021 | Children

Dr Jean Ayres, founder of Sensory Integration Therapy coined the term Gravitational Insecurity (GI) in 1972. Gravitational Insecurity is an exaggerated emotional or fear response to movement experiences, and is considered a vestibular-based sensory integration deficit that is remediated through sensory integration therapy.

Some helpful tips:

• Provide your child with slow, linear movement whilst supporting their feet.

• Initially, it was believed that the exaggerated response when a child experiences input is understood to occur due to a difficulty modulating the sensations our body receives about gravity. However, there is ongoing debate in the literature whether GI is caused by dysfunction within the otoliths (canals within the inner ear that contain fluid).

• The Astronaut Program has a range of home or clinic based vestibular activities that may also support the child to perceive vestibular input more effectively.

Children with Gravitational Insecurity often demonstrate exaggerated, fearful responses to movement of any kind. These children often are very cautious with their bodies, take little risks in play and prefer to be upright.

Using proprioceptive input (received through heavy work that requires use of our joints and muscles through activities such as pushing, pulling, and carrying) before, during and after challenging activities will support the child to feel more calm and less fearful. The proprioceptive receptors are contained in the skin, muscles, joints, and ligaments. They provide our body with additional information about what it is in space. For a child with difficulties interpreting sensations of gravity and movement the proprioceptive system can provide them with the additional cues they need.

Next time you’re at the park, on the playground at school or in a new environment watch the way your child moves and navigates this space. If your child seems fearful or avoidant, consider getting them assessed by an Occupational Therapist who has experience in Sensory Integration.

Author: Kim Elter – Occupational Therapist