There are 3 body systems that we use to learn how to balance: our visual system, our proprioceptive system, and our vestibular system. We start using these systems long before we are up on our feet. As babies lying in our parent’s arms, we watch people move their bodies and offer us toys and learn how to use our eyes and focus on objects and our surroundings. We start to orient ourselves to others and the world around us. Toddlers learn how to feel where their body is in space using their proprioceptive system. This allows them to recognize movements of their skin and joints which they use to determine when they are falling and need to fix their body position or even take a step to protect themselves. The final input from the vestibular system allows us to understand the position of our head in relation to gravity, allowing us to recognize how far, how fast, and in what direction we are moving by using structures in our inner-ear called semicircular canals. It isn’t until around 9 years old that our body and brain are able to fully coordinate all three of these systems to keep us balanced.
During that time we learn to stand, walk, run, and jump among other things. However, kids are especially good at compensating for and hiding things that make them struggle. Some kids learn to run before they can walk as a way to make up for the fact that they struggle to control their body and their balance. During therapy sessions, we work to figure out which system, or systems, might not be working properly and find ways to help the kids further develop their ability to balance on one and two feet.