by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A concerned mother explained:
Our daughter is 8, and has a bilateral vestibular disorder. She has trouble reading and if she reads too much she will get horrible vertigo spells. Even her gait is affected. When she comes home from school on Friday, her stance is wider than normal and she tends to plop her feet down. This abnormal gait disappears by Saturday.
Other than balance and hearing difficulties that come and go, she appears fairly normal. I liken my daughter’s brain to ‘RAM’ on a computer. It seems her brain does not have enough ‘RAM’ to hold several ‘programs’ open at once, unlike a computer (and most people’s brains) which can hold open, and use, several ‘programs’ at a time.
For example, if she’s using her vision program, her hearing and motor programs may shut down. If she’s using her hearing, her vision and motor programs may shut down. If both her vision and hearing programs are taxed beyond their limits, her vestibular program can’t operate either.
If she’s in a busy place such as a grocery store, or even at school, her vision goes first, then her hearing, then her muscle control and finally her balance. She literally slithers out of her chair to lie prone on the floor for which she gets into great trouble at school for ‘refusing to listen’ and get back up in her chair, going to her room to get some quiet, etc.
Her inability to keep more than one program open at a time also leads to very high distractibility. For example, if she’s looking, she can’t hear. If she’s listening, she’s not looking. If she’s walking and hears a noise, she drops whatever is in her hand.
Do you know of anyone that has a child who even remotely behaves like this?
Your daughter’s behavior seems so strange so as to be almost unbelievable–but similar things happen to other people too.
Although your daughter has several health problems, if she had just lost her balance system, she could have similar experiences.
You see, normally our balance (vestibular) systems work automatically and subconsciously behind the scenes. However, is something destroys our vestibular system, then the conscious parts of our brain have to take over for the subconscious parts (in this case, the vestibular parts) and try to keep us upright. This requires a lot of RAM (to use your analogy) and when too much is used for balance, then the other systems suffer (and may fail). Symptoms of a damaged/destroyed vestibular system may include memory loss, fatigue, nausea, blurred vision and other visual problems, and in extreme cases, sensory shut-down.
A lady recently told me about her sister, an RN, who had something similar happen to her. This sister had taken Gentamicin drops in her ear on her doctor’s orders–but she had a hole in her eardrum and the Gentamicin got into her middle ear, and from there totally destroyed the balance in her inner ears.
My sister has been diagnosed with vestibular damage [balance problems], nystagmus [eyes jerking horizontally], and oscillopsia [bouncing vision]; she experiences all the gamut of symptoms you mention–the vertigo, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and ataxia [staggering gait]. She even experiences motor function shut-down, and a loss of consciousness when in an environment that becomes too challenging for her brain–too much visual stimuli.
Particularly notice that last sentence. This is somewhat similar to what your daughter is going through. Notice that this nurse experiences too much sensory overload, she too, “slithers to the floor” so to speak–totally out of it.
Thus, if a person has vestibular system problems such as both your daughter and this lady have, the answer is twofold. First, try to cut down on the amount of sensory stimulation that you receive at any given time. This may mean simplifying your environment so as not to overload your brain and cause it to shut some systems down in order to cope. Second, schedule a number of “quiet time” breaks in a less challenging atmosphere throughout the day in order to give your brain time to recover before it shuts some things down.