Occupational Therapists use lots of techniques and interventions to best support kids and families to achieve their goals, one of these is the Astronaut Program, so what is it? This blog post will unpack what it is, who it is suitable for, and the science behind it.
What is the astronaut program?
The astronaut program is an intervention that targets our vestibular, visual, and auditory systems. To break it down, our vestibular system is responsible for balance, motion and understanding of where our body is in space. This system works with our auditory and visual systems to give us all the information we need to interpret motion, orientation, and balance. The astronaut program uses movement and sound to help kids retrain their bodies to get used to motion and orientation in space. This is done by spinning your child on a board in sitting and then lying, listening to the astronaut soundtrack. This is followed by a series of eye-tracking activities targeting that visual system and teaching it to work with the vestibular system. To prepare your child for the astronaut program, your OT will do a series of preparation activities to get your child used to the sensation of spinning.
What is the science behind it?
So, our vestibular system works by receiving signals from our inner ears. Inside our ears, we have fluid designed to move when we move. When this fluid moves, it sends signals to our brain to tell us that we are moving, and it stops to tell us we have stopped. In short, whichever way we move, the fluid does too; this feedback is sent back to the brain to help us make sense of what our body is doing. Our visual and auditory systems also work to back up this information to create the whole picture of what our body is doing. This spinning can cause motion sickness and eye flickering during the program, which tells us that this program is working for your child.
Who is the astronaut program for?
The astronaut program can be used with a child who has an under-responsive vestibular system or an over-responsive vestibular system. So, what does an under-responsive vestibular system looks like in a child? This child will typically seek out lots of movement; for example, they will move about a lot, enjoy swinging, and jumping, and can’t sit still. The child with an over-responsive vestibular system prefers to stay on the ground, doesn’t like intense movement and presents a fear of movement. The astronaut program is designed to help both kids interpret their body signals and become more in tune with their bodies.