The meaning and signs of body awareness issues and how physical therapy can help
- Body awareness helps your child know where he or she is in a given space.
- Poor body awareness can lead to balance challenges, falling, and bumping into things.
- Common signs include clumsiness, difficulty mimicking movements, trouble with gross motor skills, and poor posture.
- Physical therapy can help your child improve their body awareness, balance, and posture.
Children can have body awareness issues for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’re born with them, but other times issues develop due to an illness or disease. It’s essential to be aware of the signs that your child may have a problem so you can seek help from a physical therapist.
In this post, we will discuss what body awareness issues are, the signs to look for, and how physical therapy can help.
What is body awareness?
Body awareness refers to the connection between your body and its position in space. It’s also known as kinesthesia, the awareness of your body parts in relation to your muscles and joints, and it involves several systems:
- Nervous system – Includes the central and peripheral nervous symptoms, which direct signals between the brain, spinal cord, and the muscles, joints, and nerves throughout the body.
- Proprioceptive system – Sends signals about where and how your muscles move.
- Vestibular system – Organs within the inner ear that control spatial orientation awareness, and help with balance, posture, and head stability.
In addition to physical cues, body awareness also lets you know when you’re feeling hungry, tired, or that you’ve done too much activity. It can even tell you that you’re feeling lonely or that you need time away from people.
Body awareness is vital in helping children to develop gross and fine motor skills to perform simple tasks without having to “think” about them. We’re talking about things like picking up a pencil or walking through a room without bumping into things. All of these movements happen without conscious thought as we get older.
Children and body awareness
Just like children learn to walk and talk on their own timelines, they also develop body awareness at different rates. Some children struggle with poor body awareness. This can make it hard to learn new tasks or pay attention because they’re so focused on their body’s movements. They may feel like they don’t “fit” in the world, with even simple tasks requiring intense concentration.
Now, let’s look at three common signs of poor body awareness:
Does your child bump into walls or trip over objects in the middle of the floor often? He or she might even trip over his/her own feet a lot. Children with poor body awareness often fall or bump into things because they don’t have a good sense of how or where their bodies are positioned in space. They also lack the instincts that allow them to avoid objects or walk automatically.
2. Difficulty imitating the movements of others
Does your child struggle to mimic movements he or she sees on TV or when playing with you or other kids? Children with poor body awareness don’t understand how to move their bodies like other kids. They may also have trouble isolating movements to specific body parts or muscles. This can make even simple movements like winking or waving harder to mimic.
3. Trouble with gross motor activities
Gross motor skills include major body movements like sitting up, crawling, and walking. Is your child slower to master things like running or throwing a ball? These actions require input and information from many different muscle groups. Children with poor body awareness have difficulty moving the muscle groups necessary to perform these tasks.
Trouble with gross motor skills can lead to delays in developing fine motor skills, which require smaller, more complex movements. Fine motor skills include tying shoelaces, buttoning a shirt, brushing teeth, zipping a jacket, or dialing a phone.
Other signs of poor body awareness (proprioception issues) include:
- Poor posture
- Moving awkwardly
- Avoiding physical tasks and activities
- Chewing/biting or pulling on clothes
- Watching their movements (looks at feet when running)
- Stomping or walking with extra force
- Difficulty learning new movements
- Doesn’t like dark rooms or closing their eyes
- Prefers small spaces, forts, or closets
- Gives strong “bear hugs”
- Holds pencil too tightly or presses on paper too hard
- Has to concentrate on doing simple movements
Diagnosing body awareness issues
Consult your pediatrician if you suspect your child might have body awareness issues. Also, a physical therapist can perform a series of diagnostic exams, including neurological and proprioception tests.
Common proprioception tests include:
- Romberg test
- Thumb finding test
- Sequential finger touching
- Distal proprioception test
Your child’s pediatrician could also order blood tests, X-rays, and CT/MRI scans if they suspect an underlying medical condition or injury.
Activities that help kids develop body awareness
There are plenty of activities you can do at home to help your child develop better body perception and awareness, including:
- Kick or throw a large ball
- Ride a bike
- Play “Simon Says”
- Teach spatial awareness (i.e., stand in front, beside, behind, and next to a chair)
- Improve lateral movements (i.e., kneel on the floor and lift the left hand and right leg)
- Mimic play/movements (i.e., march in place, crawl, raising arms above the head)
- Sing and dance to songs/videos
- Imitate animal movements (i.e., act like a frog, duck, snake, or rabbit)
- Balance exercises (i.e., balance on one leg, walk in a straight line)
Help for body awareness issues at Lumiere Children’s Therapy
Our licensed team of physical therapist help children with body awareness issues overcome difficulties and learn new skills. All of our physical therapists hold DPTs (Doctorates of Physical Therapy) and use play and science-based methods and exercises to help children improve their gross and fine motor skills, balance, coordination, posture, and more.
Physical therapy can also help children with issues like:
- Muscle strengthening
- Movement strengthening
- Gait training
- Coordination skills
- Functional skills (climbing stairs, dressing, brushing hair, using scissors or utensils)
- Sports injuries
- Neuromotor reeducation after traumatic brain/spinal cord injury
Lumiere Children’s Therapy provides other comprehensive therapies as well so that children with a wide range of physical, neurological, and developmental conditions can achieve traditional milestones and gain more independence.
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
- ABA therapy
- Developmental therapy
- Social work
- Augmentative alternative communication
- Early intervention
Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.