Proprioception refers to the ability of our muscles and joints to get input from the world around us to determine where our body is in space. This means that we can sense the movement and positioning of our bodies without having to visually reference each body part. When an individual has a diminished sense of proprioception, they may demonstrate difficulties such as clumsiness, poor coordination, poor postural control, poor force modulation, poor motor planning skills, etc.
When a child is over responsive to proprioceptive sensory input, the child tends to be very cautious and can experience a lot of anxiety related to movement, weight bearing, hugging others, or being physically moved by others. An over responsive child may be labeled as lazy or lethargic. This child may avoid certain body positions during play or may avoid movement-based activities altogether. Additionally, the over responsive child may also avoid foods that require more force in order to chew.
On the flip side, an under responsive child (or seeking child) may present with excessive body movements. These children may enjoy bumping, crashing, pulling, tight hugs, or roughhousing. These children may be labeled as “destructive” or “aggressive” due to their poor body awareness and force modulation. In school, these children may have difficulty maintaining an upright seated position in chairs, modulating force during recess, and navigating hallways without crashing into walls or other obstacles. They may also experience difficulty participating in handwriting tasks, often using firm force and fatiguing quickly.
To improve proprioception in an over-responsive child we encourage deep pressure activities massages, therapeutic brushing, using weighted/ compression garments (i.e. vest, body sock, ankle weights, etc.), and bear hugs/ squeezes as tolerated. At Way to Grow, we will encourage your child to participate in a variety of movement-based activities such as navigating between uneven surfaces, climbing, crawling, inverted head sit ups or i-spy, swinging, and other gross motor challenges in addition to deep pressure activities. These activities will not only increase their body awareness and coordination, but it will improve their confidence and willingness to engage in age-appropriate play activities with their peers.
To improve proprioception in an under-responsive child, we recommend engaging your child in a variety of heavy work activities. Heavy work is anything that moves the body against its own body weight or added weight. We recommend allowing your child to participate in sports, playing on the playground, running, jumping, climbing, crashing, or moving heavy things. At home, your child can participate in mini obstacle courses, complete animal walks, push weighted items down the hall in the laundry basket, or crash onto pillows. At school, your child can use weighted or compression garments, do chair push ups, or help their teacher with various tasks (i.e, erasing the white board, passing out papers/ books, carrying the lunch box tote, or running errands. This child may also seek oral sensory input and would benefit from chewelry, chewing gum, sucking on hard candy, or drinking thick liquid through small straws.