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

    • balance,

    • 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.

 
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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

  • Balance

  • 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

  • Letter reversals

  • 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
     

Introductory video on the effects of a poorly integrated vestibular system.

References:

  1. Kawar M.J., Frick, S.M., Frick, R. Astronaut Training: A Sound Activated Vetsibular-Visual Protocol For Moving Looking & Listening, Vital Links USA 2005