Astronaut Training: A Sound Activated Vestibular-Visual Therapy
What is Astronaut Training?
Astronaut Training is a child-friendly treatment protocol designed to stimulate and integrate the vestibular, auditory and visual sensory processing centers and enhance functioning in a wide variety of areas including but not limited to:
postural development and control,
motor skills (fine and gross motor coordination),
timing and sequencing of movements
spatial awareness and body awareness
eye-hand and eye-foot coordination
eye muscle control and visual perception for academic skills, and
level of arousal, regulation and attention.
It was developed by two highly-recognized leaders in the field of Sensory Integration, Mary J. Kawar MS, OTR, and Sheila M. Frick OTR, over 15 years ago and is a valuable tool for optimizing vestibular functioning and sensory integration.
Astronaut Training derives from the neuroscience of the vestibular system and from the extensive training that astronauts undergo to optimize their vestibular function to withstand the demands of space travel.
How is Astronaut Training done with my child?
Astronaut Training delivers therapeutically precise rotational input to the vestibular system followed by eye tracking activities. These activities are fun and appealing to children. The program is set to music with space sounds, which has a calming effect and will elicit an orienting response by the nervous system. The rhythmical sounds guide the timing and coordination of the movements.
In this Astronaut Training protocol, the quality of sensory input that goes into the central nervous system via the vestibular system is precise, comprehensive and balanced thus it has an impact on the quality of performance or response that ensues. As a result, we are training the brain to more effectively integrate movement information with all of the senses so that the body becomes more organized for daily function.
What is the Vestibular System?
The vestibular system is a sensory structure housed in the inner ear, very close to the auditory system. It consists of:
The utricle and saccule, which tell our brain about linear movements of the head and the force of gravity.
Three semi-circular canals, which tell our brain about rotational movements.
The Vestibular System is a
critical part of everything we do.
Via the 8th cranial nerve, the vestibular system has connections with the many areas of the brain, the visual system and the spinal cord.
Some of the important functions of the vestibular system include:
Generation of our muscle tone and ability to have posture control
Awareness of the body in relation to gravity and midline orientation
Motion perception, spatial orientation and spatial memory
Fine control of motor movement (fine motor, oral motor - articulation, visual-motor, gross motor skills)
Timing and rhythm for execution of coordinated movement
Bilateral skills (using our two sides together in a coordinated way)
Coordination of eye control, eye muscle movement and functional vision
Emotional stability, level of arousal, ability to pay attention, and focus
Signs of An Under-Responsive Vestibular System
An under-responsive system typically appears as a child who is constantly moving and prefers to swing, flip, or place the body in positions of intense vestibular activation, such as upside down. Some signs may include:
Being over active or distractible
Difficulty maintaining straight, upright posture while sitting at a desk
Difficulty tracking an object smoothly across the visual field or shifting the eyes from one point to another.
Poor ball skills / poor eye-hand coordination
Difficulty with reading, writing and/or math
Poor balance / clumsiness – a child may fall more frequently than peers or runs instead of walking to maintain balance
Difficulty using two hands or both sides of the body
e.g. cutting, tying shoe laces, riding a bicycle
Switches hands rather than having a hand dominance
over the age of 6
Challenges with rhythm and timing of movements
Demonstrating an irregular cadence in walk
Dislikes being in the dark (our visual system can compensate for vestibular deficits)
Signs of An Over-Responsive Vestibular System
An over-responsive system will appear as a child who avoids intense movement experiences, such as a roller coasters, or has a fear of having his/her feet off the ground.
Becoming anxious when off of the ground
Fear of falling or losing balance
Fearful of escalators and lifts
Dislikes having the head tilted in space
Avoids jumping down from a higher surface to a lower one
Avoids climbing or moving play equipment
Kawar M.J., Frick, S.M., Frick, R. Astronaut Training: A Sound Activated Vetsibular-Visual Protocol For Moving Looking & Listening, Vital Links USA 2005