Researchers have found evidence that when sensory motor deficits in children with balance issues are addressed, their anxiety decreases (see article). It makes sense–if you fear falling, it’s scary. Haven’t we seen this in our elders?
Sensory kids can be anxious about a new swing that has a different motion (for instance, a tire or platform swing when they’ve only been on ones that go back and forth). They may hesitate to walk downhill, due in part to their faulty sense of balance and in part to visual processing which makes navigating that trail to the bottom difficult. Fear of heights and climbing affects their gross motor skills and muscle tone after a while as they avoid climbing up playground structures and remain close to the ground rather than risk falling. The proprioceptive and vestibular senses of body awareness and movement need to work together to give a clear picture of what’s going on in the child’s body; when they don’t, they can’t rely on the sensory information to guide them safely. Poor balance and clumsiness are often signs of sensory processing disorder.
Gently pushing a child out of his comfort zone will help him to retrain his system to function more typically over time. This is most effective when his brain is most “reprogrammable” (or “plastic,” as neuroscientists say) in his toddler years, but the brain never stops being programmable, so we need to help these kids (and adults with these issues) with sensory motor help.