Does your child have a short attention span? Do they seem to lift, push, pull, crash, hang, lean and climb frequently? Or, do they seem to be lethargic and sluggish? If so, your child may benefit from a type of sensory information known as proprioceptive input.
What is Proprioception?
Close your eyes and touch your nose. If everything is working properly, this should be easy because your brain can sense your body, as well as its position and movement through space. Proprioception is a sense of how our bodies are positioned. Our body unconsciously senses proprioception via messages sent to our brain from sensory receptors in our muscles and joints throughout our body. Proprioception is important for developing a sense of body position which contributes to body awareness, safety awareness and even focus. The proprioceptive system is activated any time we participate in muscle work (i.e. climbing on a play structure) and when joints are compressed together (i.e. a shoulder massage) or pulled apart (i.e. stretching).
What is Proprioceptive Input?
Proprioceptive input is information from muscles and joints that are sent to the brain. Think about times when you have difficulty concentrating or feel restless. What do you do to help regain your focus? Get up and walk around? Stretch? Chew gum? All of these activities provide proprioceptive input, muscle work and/or joint pressure, which helps to achieve a neutral level of energy and good focus. Proprioceptive input can also help us calm down when we are emotional. What are some coping strategies you implement when you are upset? Go for a run or walk? Get a hug? Muscle work and deep pressure have a calming and organizing effect on the body. Everyone can benefit from proprioceptive input, especially kiddos with Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder and other diagnosis.
How Can Proprioceptive Input Help my Child?
Some children crave and seek proprioceptive input. They crave it by hanging, climbing, pushing, pulling and crashing their bodies with every opportunity (and if there is no opportunity, they will make one!). Signs of a sensory system that seeks proprioception can include excessive movement, jumping, stomping, fidgeting, wiggling, climbing, hanging, pushing and pulling. Do you know any children like this who are labeled as impulsive, hyperactive or disobedient? These children require a greater intensity of proprioceptive input in order to meet their sensory needs. Other children avoid proprioceptive input. They may prefer sedentary activities over physical play, demonstrate a lack of body/spatial awareness and constantly appear lethargic. These individuals require a greater intensity of proprioceptive input in order for it to be sensed by their brain. Regardless of whether a child seeks out or avoids proprioceptive input, they both NEED frequent proprioceptive input. Not only will it help improve their focus temporarily, but their neurological system can make permanent changes resulting in them needing less proprioceptive input later in life.
What are Practical Ways to give my Child Proprioceptive Input?
- Playing and climbing at the park
- Riding a bicycle or tricycle
- Animal walks (i.e. bear walk, crab walk, snake crawl, frog jumps, etc.)
- Sports (i.e. swimming, soccer, basketball, karate, gymnastics, horseback riding, etc.)
- Chores (i.e. vacuuming, mopping, sweeping, raking leaves, shoveling snow, taking out the trash, gardening, washing dishes, unloading the dishwasher, carrying or pushing a full laundry basket, loading the dryer with wet clothes from the washer, washing windows/mirrors, mowing the lawn
- Carrying bags of groceries
- Helping in the kitchen (i.e. stirring food, kneading and rolling dough, mashing potatoes, etc.)
- Walking, hiking or jogging
- Wheel barrow walking
- Marching or stomping
- Yoga poses
- Jumping and crashing into a mattress, large pillows or couch cushions
- Bear hugs– given to self or from a loved one
- Body squishes between beanbag chairs, couch cushions or pillows
- Lying on stomach and forearms during a game or activity
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Playing catch with a large pillow or ball
- Caring heavy objects: (i.e. backpack, bag of books, groceries)
- Jumping rope
- Crawling over pillows, cushions and through tunnels
- Pulling a friend, sibling, or heavy items in a wagon
- Rolling like a log
- Bouncing on therapy ball
- Tearing paper grocery bags to create lots of “leaves” for a “leaf pile”
- Sit ups, push-ups, wall push-ups, chair push-ups
- Push/pull/lift heavy objects (i.e. vacuum, laundry basket, toy box)
- Building a fort
- Jumping jacks
- Drinking thick beverages through a straw
- Eating crunchy/chewy foods
- A quiet corner with pillows, cushions, or bean bag chairs to hide in/under for self-regulation when child becomes overwhelmed
- Placing a weighted lap pad (i.e. 5lbs of dry rice or beans in a fabric casing) across lap during table-time activities
- Rubbing/massaging firmly and slowly on back or arms
- Rolling a large exercise ball slowly and firmly over the body (child can be lying on back or stomach)
Proprioception is the sense of how our bodies are positioned in space. When a person’s proprioceptive system is not functioning at its fullest potential, the result may be decreased sense of body position, safety awareness and attention span. Activities rich in proprioceptive input are an effective tool for helping children improve their focus. These activities can be incorporated into their daily lives to help them reach their highest potential at home, school and in the community. If their need for proprioceptive input continues to be met, their sensory system (a neurological system) will make permanent changes and they will require less proprioceptive input in the future. Try implementing a proprioceptive activity with your child today and watch the results!