As an OT, proprioceptive activities are my favorite type of sensory input because they can be used to help calm, focus, or even alert a child. But this doesn’t fit into all circumstances. There are different types of proprioceptive activities that can have different affects, and when you learn what they are and when to offer the it can be a game changer in your child’s behaviors, attention, and even ability to sleep! Proprioceptive activities are amazing because they can be used quickly and require no special equipment. That means they can be used anywhere: the mall, school, or in the middle of a play date.
What is Proprioception?
Most people have never been taught about this 7th sense. Even spell check doesn’t even recognize it as a word! Understanding how it works is an important key to understanding why it helps your child or even why they seek it.
In the simplest terms, proprioception is our body’s ability to know where it is at any given time (otherwise called ). And just like we see through receptors called our eyes, with proprioception, we know where our body is because of receptors that run all through our muscles and joints. Our vision is stimulated by bright lights or moving objects, and proprioception is stimulated by pressure to the receptors all throughout our body. Anytime we squeeze through a tight space, hug someone, or jump up and down we are getting proprioceptive input.
Why Does Proprioception Matter?
Our proprioceptive system helps us walk across the room without bumping into anything or climb a jungle gym or hold a pencil to write. We have to know where each part of our body is and how to get it there quickly to be able to do just about anything.
How Do You Know When a Child Needs Proprioceptive Activities?
Proprioception is a big deal with kids that have sensory needs because when used the right way. The vast majority of kids like proprioceptive input, and many seek it out. And, even if your child doesn’t have specific “sensory needs”, proprioceptive activities can still be beneficial to help them calm down when they get upset or to relax before bedtime.
Your child may especially benefit from proprioceptive activities if they fall into one of two categories:
The first is seeking and is also the most common. Seeking means that your child is often trying to get more proprioceptive input. It’s like their bodies can’t get enough of it. Kids that are proprioceptive seekers may frequently:
- Chew on everything
- Hide in tight spots
- Love heavy blankets
- Play rough
- Crash into things on purpose
- Always try to jump on the couch or bed
- Be described as very physical or “wild”
- Over-step personal boundaries
- Hold onto writing utensils tightly
Proprioceptive Low Registration Signs:
The second is called low registration, which is less common, but quite possible. Low registration, or under-responsive, means that the sensory input, in this case from the proprioceptive system, isn’t registering. It’s like the brain has turned the switch off. Let’s look at some signs of low proprioceptive registration:
- Generally low energy
- May not want to get out of bed in the morning
- Bumps into walls and objects, seeming not to notice them
- Very high pain tolerance
If your child has several signs listed above, under either category, then activities that target proprioceptive input will be meeting their needs and encouraging their development completely.
Heavy Work Activities
Heavy work activities mean exactly what the name implies, these activities require our kids to actively use their muscles to push, pull, lift, or carry objects that are heavy. is inadvertently put on those proprioceptive receptors in the muscles and joints.
I’ve included some of the most common activities below, many of which are chores that occur often in family life.
- Push/pull heavy objects like laundry basket
- Push Wheelbarrow/ Lawnmower
- Push Grocery cart (could be a play version for young children)
- Carry heavy objects bags or items from grocery store/pantry
- Garbage bins/cans to or from the curb
Deep Pressure Activities
Deep pressure activities are often passive and provide lots of calming sensations. They are often used when a child has difficulty sitting still or transitioning to different activities. But, these types of activities aren’t received well by all kids. Deep pressure also provides a lot of tactile input, and if your child is sensitive to that, deep pressure may not be a good strategy for them. They’ll let you know!
If you aren’t sure that your child will like these activities, you can experiment by just putting a lot of blankets on them or try placing a heavy object on their lap. If they seem to like it, you may want to invest in (or make) some of the weighted item below.
- Getting or giving hugs
- Rolling up tightly in blanket like a burrito
- Sitting with a weighted lap pad or toy
- Squeezing into tight spots
- Lying under heavy objects
- Couch cushions
- Getting or giving a massage
- Use a large ball to “steam roll” over a child’s body (press firmly, be careful with head)
For more information go to http://yourkidstable.com/proprioceptive-activities/