Let’s Talk About the Proprioceptive System
Try closing your eyes and touching your finger to your nose. Your ability to know where your finger and nose are without looking is known as proprioception. Proprioception is the sense that tells us where our body is in space. It lets us know where our body parts are and how these body parts are moving. Our brain receives this information from receptors in our muscles and joints and uses this awareness of where our body is to complete most everyday activities, from brushing our teeth to walking down the stairs.
Children with decreased proprioception often rely on their vision or use cognitive strategies to complete even simple tasks such as sitting upright in a chair or eating with a spoon. Relying on your vision to know where your body is in space therefore makes it difficult to complete many daily activities. Children with difficulty processing proprioceptive input often appear clumsy or have poor postural control. As a result, children are often seen bumping into things, falling out of their chairs, or leaning on others. Children with decreased proprioception often have difficulty grading the amount of force to use while engaging in activities such as writing, typing, or playing sports. This is often evidenced by writing too lightly or pressing too hard on a pencil, ripping the paper while erasing, or slamming doors too hard. Difficulty grading the amount of force used can also result in breaking objects or toys or having a difficult time throwing or kicking balls the appropriate distance.
In order to receive information regarding where their bodies are in space, children with decreased proprioception often seek out firm pressure to their skin. Providing children with opportunities to receive this deep pressure is therefore beneficial to assist in increasing body awareness. Deep pressure activities include giving your child a tight hug, wrapping your child in a blanket or between couch cushions to make a “burrito,” or having your child sit with a weighted blanket or lap pad. “Heavy work” activities additionally provide input to the joints and muscles to further improve proprioception. Examples of heavy work activities include climbing on playground equipment, pushing or pulling heavy objects (such as wagons or baskets full of toys or books), jumping on a trampoline, doing animal walks, holding yoga poses, or crawling. Chewing gum, eating crunchy or chewy snacks (such as pretzels, fruit snacks, or popcorn), and blowing bubbles additionally provide proprioceptive input to the muscles and joints in your mouth. Receiving this input from the various joints and muscles in the body helps the brain understand where our body is in space. This makes it easier for children to play, pay attention in school and engage in all other activities that are important to being a kid!
Ayres, Jean A. (2005). Sensory Integration and the Child. Western Psychological Services.
Smith Roley, S. (2017). M1 Section III Lesson 4 Proprioception [PowerPoint slides].