We are finding that a lot of the kids we work with rely on their vision to help them maintain their balance. Now this isn’t all bad, and vision is one of the inputs that our body uses to help keep us upright. But, if all things are equal, our first line of defense should be our proprioceptive system. This is the system in the joints and muscles that sends messages to the brain to tell it where our body is in space. When we rely on vision we are moving that to our first line of defense.
The challenge with vision being the first line of defense, and not our proprioceptive system is that it can make balancing difficult when a child is in a busy environment, or when they are distracted and can’t visually attend to what they are doing. This is often why you see a kiddo lose their balance more when there are a lot of people around, then when they are by themselves. They are visually distracted so they aren’t focusing on watching what they are doing. Since their proprioceptive system is used to vision driving the bus, it is slow to react and often its not enough time for the child to regain their balance.
So what can we do to help? We recently bought some fun animal sleep masks that we have been using with our kids. They can pick what animal they want to be and then we make a game out of it depending on what they are working on. It could be as simple as walking across our large therapy room (on the mat) towards the crash pad. One kiddo pretended he was a mouse cop and collected all the stuffed animals and brought them back to the police station. If you just want to focus on balance while staying still, you could have them practice standing on one foot, or tandem stance (one foot in front of the other), or even just standing on two feet. You can play statues where they have to freeze in that position, or Simon Says, to name a few ideas.