Embodying Academic Readiness
As the sights and the sounds of the fall season begin to transform, it is also undeniable that the new school year is fully underway. Children’s backpacks are getting heavier as more and more homework is sent home, parent teacher conferences loom on the horizon, and the warm summer days of playing outside for hours at a time seem like a distant memory.
Teachers around the country are spending the school day focusing on supporting academic achievements and igniting a passion for learning with their newest class of students. However, teachers may be finding that not all of their students are equipped with the foundational skills critical to learning. While some students are quietly sitting in their chairs with their eyes and ears directed on the teacher, others cannot manage to sit still. These children may appear inattentive, fidgeting with their pencil and papers, or constantly moving in their chair. This inability to sit in a focused posture is not necessarily due to ‘behavioral’ issues. In fact, these problems can be rooted in sensory integrative difficulties, which ultimately impact the child’s ability to organize their body to take in the most salient information from their environment. From a sensory-motor standpoint, it is the integration of the vestibular-auditory-visual triad that serves as an embodied foundation for academic readiness.
Without good information coming from the vestibular system, sights and sounds in the environment do not make sense- they are only isolated pieces of information disconnected from each other and from the meaning of the whole. It is the integration of sensory information that holds the key for finding meaning in the world. –Mary J. Kawar, MS, OTL, and Sheila M. Frick, OTR/L from “Astronaut Training: A Sound Activated Vestibular-Visual Protocol for Moving, Looking & Listening”
My experiences working with and learning from Sheila M. Frick and Mary Kawar have provided invaluable insight into the unique roles of these sensory systems, and more importantly the power of integrating the vestibular-auditory-visual triad. The vestibular system is a movement-detection system that informs us of the position of our head and body in relationship to gravity-bound space. It conveys what direction we are moving and provides the gravitational reference point for our place in space. Subsequently, it is the coordination of the auditory and visual systems that create our three-dimensional perception of space or spatial envelope. When these three systems are working together, the integration provides moment to moment information about our body in relationship to the spaces we occupy and the events that occur.
Additionally, through descending pathways, the vestibular system activates the postural muscles that surround the central vertical axis of the body. When kids do not receive adequate information from their vestibular system to ignite (and later strengthen) these deep core postural muscles, they often compensate by relying on surface musculature to maintain an upright posture — more appropriately designed for quick bursts of movement or for skill. Thus kids appear to be constantly moving to keep these muscles ‘turned on’. Another compensatory strategy kids often employ is breath holding or fixing of the diagram to increase postural stability. This strategy further compromises our core stability, along with our ability to regulate arousal levels.
Upon further consideration, we may find that some of our kids actually lack the integration of the vestibular-auditory-visual systems and automatic deep core activation necessary to maintain a stable, upright posture. Consequently, they then struggle to organize their eyes and their ears to participate efficiently in everyday tasks, including copying from a blackboard, listening to the teacher, reading, writing, and even catching a ball.
The next time you see an inattentive and easily distractible child in the classroom, ask yourself if sensory integrative difficulties are impacting this child’s ability to stay focused in the classroom? By incorporating activities that provide precise vestibular-visual-auditory activation, within minutes a day we can ignite and strengthen the embodied groundwork for school readiness — ultimately supporting our kids’ academic achievement.
To learn more about the vestibular-visual-auditory activation, checkout our Astronaut Training course.