Sensory Integration

Gravitational Insecurity

Gravitational insecurity is an extreme fear of everyday movement, having one’s feet off the ground, or being in an upright position. Children experiencing this fear have issues with gravity and they exhibit out-of-proportion reactions to situations that don’t pose any real danger. They prefer to stay low to the ground and you will usually find them seated or lying down attempting to prevent any type of movement.

Children who experience gravitational insecurity avoid most physically active tasks and might even get upset when they are required to move.

Common symptoms of gravitational insecurity include:

  • Fear of heights.
  • Unwarranted anxiety or fear.
  • Overwhelmed by head position changes.
  • Avoidance of elevators, stairs, uneven surfaces and high playground equipment.
  • Refusal to join in on gross motor activities.
  • Moving carefully and slowly.

Treatments through Pediatric Occupational Therapists

A common treatment used by pediatric occupational therapists for gravitational insecurity is sensory integration. Your child is able to process information more efficiently by providing him or her with graded vestibular information. Sensory experiences are gradually and slowly introduced to your child so they don’t identify with these experiences in a negative way.

The child is guided through a multisensory approach by the therapist to help him explore his environment through vestibular system stimulation.  This is done by encouraging the child to swing, climb, roll, jump and crawl, which is all things outside his comfort zone. The child is challenged just a little bit initially, which will allow them to gradually start participating in activities that were once terrifying to them.

What You Can Do

To get a child with gravitational insecurity moving, it might benefit them for you to physically guide them through activities like sliding, climbing, and swinging. If needed, you might even want to slide down the chute with your child in your lap, which could provide a little extra security they need to tolerate vestibular input. Another thing you can try is role-playing. You can tell your child to ‘do it how I do it’ or ‘watch me do this’, then demonstrate it to them.

It’s important that you introduce all new movement activities in small doses and stop the minute your child appears over stimulated or frightened. If you continue to notice extreme responses to these activities, you should seek the help of a pediatric occupational therapist.

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