Proprioception is often known as the sixth sense, as it is a sense that is not commonly known. To put it simply, proprioception is the sense that tells the body where it is in space. It’s very important to the brain, as it plays a large role in self- regulation, co-ordination, posture, body awareness, the ability to focus and speech. Proprioception is the sense that lets us know where our different body parts are, how they move and how much strength our muscles need to use. We receive proprioceptive input from our sensory receptors located in our skin, muscles and joints. Playing the piano, handwriting, and playing sport are all activities that require a lot of proprioceptive input.
When receptors known as proprioceptors are stimulated, the arousal centre of the brain is provided with information about our movements and body position. Within this system, there are three major components of the brain, which interact and impact a child’s level of alertness (the cortex, limbic system and cerebellum). Therefore, by providing children with proprioceptive input throughout the day they can be assisted to maintain an optimal state for learning and focused attention.
Proprioception activities can either be heavy muscle work activities or activities that apply deep pressure to the muscle and joints. Heavy work activities involve pushing, pulling, carrying heavy objects and weight-bearing, such as, carrying a pile of heavy books or doing a wheelbarrow walk. An example of a deep pressure activity would be giving your child a tight hug or your child hugging themselves into a tight ball. These activities can provide children with a strategy to be calm, focused and ready to participate.
What are the signs of proprioceptive dysfunction?
SENSORY SEEKING BEHAVIORS:
- seeks out jumping, bumping, and crashing activities
- stomps feet when walking
- kicks his/her feet on floor or chair while sitting at desk/table
- loves to be tightly wrapped in many or weighted blankets, especially at bedtime
- prefers clothes (and belts, hoods, shoelaces) to be as tight as possible
- loves/seeks out “squishing” activities
- enjoys bear hugs
- excessive banging on/with toys and objects
DIFFICULTY WITH “GRADING OF MOVEMENT”:
- misjudges how much to flex and extend muscles during tasks/activities
- difficulty regulating pressure when writing/drawing; may be too light to see or so hard the tip of writing utensil breaks
- written work is messy and he/she often rips the paper when erasing
- always seems to be breaking objects and toys
- misjudges the weight of an object, such as a glass of juice, picking it up with too much force sending it flying or spilling, or with too little force and complaining about objects being too heavy
- may not understand the idea of “heavy” or “light”; would not be able to hold two objects and tell you which weighs more
- seems to do everything with too much force; i.e., walking, slamming doors, pressing things too hard, slamming objects down
When should you provide your child with proprioceptive input?
At school/preschool, some moments in which you can provide heavy work breaks could include:
- Transition between table and floor activities
- Transition from recess and lunch to learning
- During learning – when you notice a child losing focus and becoming disengaged
At home, heavy work or deep pressure input may include:
- Before bedtime (at least 15 minutes before)
- Prior to mealtimes, or times when a child is expected to sit still
- As a part of their daily routine, e.g. when they wake up, before they go to school, when they get home, and before they brush their teeth and get ready for bed.
Proprioception Activities for Home
Heavy muscle work activities
- Chair push-ups: Put hands beside thighs, push down and lift bottom off chair
- Rolling over gym ball: Walk hands back and forth on ground
- Wall pushes: Put hands flat against wall, push into the wall (make sure elbows do not wing out)
- Floor push ups: Lie on floor, push up with hands (do not let elbows lock)
- Animal walks: Bear, frog, kangaroo, donkey kicks, crab
- Commando crawling: Prone on floor, body propped up on elbows, legs straight, pull self along on floor with forearms
- Wheelbarrow walking: Child walks on ground with hands whilst you hold their lower limbs
- Monkey bars: (at playground)
- Crawling with something heavy on back: g. a beanbag, sandbag, backpack with something heavy (no more than 10% of child’s body weight)
- Housework and chores: e.g. sweeping, vacuuming, carrying things (e.g. laundry basket)
Deep pressure activities
- Jumping off low height- couch/trampoline: Landing on soft cushions, old mattress
- Hugs: Wrap arms around body, squeeze tightly and hold for 10
- Sandwich: Gently squeezing child between soft cushions
- Hot dog: Rolling child’s body up firmly in blanket (keep head out) and massage
- Tucking in child tightly in blanket at night: Similar to the hot dog, or you could call it a ‘burrito’.
- Steam roll: If you have an exercise ball, roll over your child’s body with the exercise ball firmly.
Occupational Therapy Helping Children is one of the leading centres in Sydney for the treatment of Proprioception. If you have concerns about your child give us a call on 02 9913 3823.