What is the proprioception sense?
We are all familiar with the five common senses of smell, taste, touch, sight and sound. There are other lesser known and equally important senses such as the proprioception sense and the vestibular sense. Proprioception is how an individual perceives his or her body in space. Proprioceptive input is the input to our muscles and joints that assists in our body awareness and position in space. Receptors within the skin, muscles and joints allow a person to be aware where their body is in space and position. Vision assists with this body awareness but it not 100% necessary.
Every person falls along a continuum of how sensitive they are to this sense and how it is interpreted within their own body. It is when it starts to interfere with your child’s everyday life and a family’s functioning that a child’s behavior may need to be addressed. If a child has a high threshold for the proprioceptive sense, they may be seeking out input their body craves in appropriate manners, such as:
- Is your child extremely active?
- Does your child have difficulty sitting still during mealtimes or at school?
- Does your child enjoy rough housing?
- Did your infant enjoy being swaddled or cuddled?
- Does your child enjoy crashing into things such as couch cushions?
- Does your child appear to bump into objects more frequently than peers?
- Does your child use too much pressure or force when playing with toys?
- Does your child have difficulty keeping their hands to him/herself?
- Is your child clumsy or uncoordinated?
Having your child participate in heavy work activities can assist with regulating their proprioceptive sense and provide them with the input they are seeking to feel more organized throughout their day. Heavy work activities are activities that require a child to push, carry or pull objects to receive the input to their muscles and joints. Other activities require body movement or oral motor movement.
Suggestions of common heavy work activities include:
- Crawling over uneven surfaces such as pillows or couch cushions
- Going to a park, climbing on equipment
- Playing catch with weighted therapy balls
- Playing tug o war
- Animal walks
- Obstacle course requiring child to climb over/under objects
- Trampoline jumps, big jumps
- Wall push-ups
- Housework such as sweeping, mopping, watering flowers, vacuuming
- Walking, hiking, biking, swimming
- Going up going and down stairs
- Carrying weighted backpack
- Carrying grocery bags
- Pushing laundry baskets filled with clothes
- Wheelbarrow walks
Suggestions of oral motor heavy work activities:
- Sucking on cold popsicles, cold vegetables or fruit
- Blowing bubbles, whistles
- Humming songs
- Sucking on sucker or hard candy
- Chewing on tough foods such as dried fruit, beef jerky, fruit leather
- Sucking on thick consistencies through a straw such as yogurt or applesauce
- Chewing gum
- Eating crunchy granola bars
In general, the effects of heavy work activities are maintained within the body system for approximately 2 hours. It is important to try to incorporate these activities into a child’s everyday schedule and to monitor a child for adverse effects.
Answering yes to any of these questions does not necessarily mean your child has difficulty regulating the proprioceptive sense. Contact an Occupational Therapist for concerns and a more detailed evaluation.