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Proprioception Is Your Friend!

Kristen Lorton - OTR, MOT

If you were to close your eyes, could you feel how your body is positioned? Are your knees bent or straight? Are your hands open or closed? Can you touch the tip of your nose with your pinky accurately? (No peeking!) All of those sensory neurons are telling your brain where your body is in space. 

So many sensory messages are received through receptors in our muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This input tells our brain about our body’s positioning, direction, and movement. Then our brain processes this information and helps us coordinate our bodies more efficiently.


The amazing thing about this sensory system is that it generally has a calming effect on the nervous system. Most activities that provide proprioceptive input help with regulation! When children are over OR under-stimulated, providing deep pressure assists with sensory modulation. When our sensory system is able to discriminate and integrate stimuli in our environment, our bodies are more available for learning (ie: focused), and our behavior is more regulated.


Children who struggle to process a variety of sensory input can have difficulty completing daily tasks, participating in school activities, engaging with peers and family, and maintaining relationships with others. Some red flags that could indicate dysregulation include: 


  • Using too much or too little force on objects

  • Constant or repetitive crashing, climbing, wrestling, and jumping tasks

  • Seeks tight squeezes and hugs or fitting themselves into small spaces for extended periods of time

  • Toe walking 

  • Excessive clumsiness

  • Frequent chewing on inedible objects


Many Occupational Therapists will recommend identifying the root cause when a challenging behavior occurs. Is the child having difficulty during the same time, activity or routine each day? Examples of this could be when a child transitions into the bedtime routine or is sitting during a meal. 


Proprioceptive input can be included in a child’s daily routine, especially in recurrent areas of difficulty, to reduce challenging behaviors. Having a set of sensory-rich activities and/or equipment may help with self-regulation, attention, and emotional control. These can include heavy work activities, weight-bearing, resistive exercises, massages, and joint compressions. Sometimes, these are referred to as a “Sensory Diet,” which consists of when a sensory input will be provided and for how long, and is individualized depending on the child’s needs and interests. 

A child’s main occupation is PLAY. The suggested activities below should look and feel like playtime. This helps the child engage for longer to get the most sensory input possible. 


Infants

  • Tummy time

  • Weight bear into arms using a boppy pillow

  • Rolling side to side

  • Swaddling

  • Infant massage

  • Gentle foot squeeze

  • Bouncing baby on exercise ball

  • Oral activities such as chewing or blowing bubbles

  • Bath time and massaging with a wet washcloth



Toddlers

  • Sensory paths that include skipping, hopping, stomping, and tiptoe walking 

  • Jump on a mini trampoline

  • Animal crawls and walks

  • Scooping/digging in sand

  • Molding play-doh or pressing stamps into soft clay

  • Navigating a playscape at a park to include climbing, sliding, swinging

  • Playing board games or coloring while lying on their stomach and putting weight into their arms

  • Arm circles

  • Obstacle course: balance pods, couch cushions, gymnastic wedge

  • Low balance beam

  • Bean bag seating

  • Karate chop large pillows 



School Aged

  • Bike riding

  • Scooter and scooter boards

  • Jumping jacks

  • Army crawls (ninja warrior class)

  • Monkey bars

  • Yoga (Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube is great!) 

  • Weighted balls, blankets, lap pads, and stuffed animals

  • Compression wear: sensory sleeves, compression shirt/shorts/socks, body socks

  • Bean bag games

  • Jump rope

  • Wall push-ups

  • Tactile Balance Discs

  • SPORTS! Gymnastics, Swimming, Rock Climbing, etc.; inherently provide great opportunities for heavy work and proprioceptive input.


Occupational Therapists can provide additional opportunities in sensory integration clinics. Pediatric OTs work with children who have sensory processing needs in the outpatient, home health, and school settings with the goal of participating in daily activities through sensory modulation.


If you or someone you know could benefit from proprioceptive movement added to their routine, please check out the resources below or look for an Occupational Therapist in your area!


Resources


Kristen graduated from UTMB with her Master's in Occupational Therapy in 2015 and has been a school-based OT for 8 years. She enjoys working with children of all abilities and especially loves working with her little friends on the spectrum. Although her passion is pediatric OT, she also works in the acute care setting with adults who have had neurological and orthopedic injuries. In her spare time, Kristen enjoys traveling, reading and watching her daughter grow into a remarkable young lady.

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