I recently found myself in a conversation with a bunch of moms about proprioceptive dysfunction and the best proprioceptive exercises for sensory seekers, and I felt more than a little lost. My understanding of the proprioceptive system is spotty at best, and while I’ve done a ton of research about sensory integration activities for autism and sensory processing disorder over the last several months, my focus has always been on finding fun vestibular system exercises (see my favorites HERE). And even though the proprioceptive system is closely related to the vestibular system, they are still 2 very separate senses.
And I wanted to know more.
So I started poking around on the internet and thanks to all of the wonderful occupational therapists who so graciously share all of their best sensory integration techniques for kids, I found some pretty amazing proprioceptive exercises to help children with sensory processing disorder.
But before we get to those, let’s lay a little groundwork, shall we?
What Is the Proprioceptive System?
Simply put, proprioception is about body position and awareness. The proprioceptive system is responsible for helping us understand where we are in relation to the space around us. Our proprioceptive receptors exist in our muscles, joints, and ligaments, and these receptors are what enable us to sit, stand, stretch, bend over, climb stairs, run…you get the idea.
What is Proprioception Dysfunction?
Proprioceptive dysfunction occurs when we aren’t receiving and processing information from our proprioceptive system correctly. This can present in one of 2 ways – proprioceptive seeking behaviors or proprioceptive avoiding behaviors.
Examples of Proprioceptive Seeking Behaviors
- Unaware of personal space
- Excessively chewing things (pencils, clothing, etc.)
- Preferring to wear tight clothing
- Playing too roughly and/or with extreme force
- Walking loudly
- Jumping (even when not appropriate)
- Enjoying loud noises
Examples of Proprioceptive Avoiding Behaviors
- Appearing lazy and uncoordinated
- Clinging to parents and caregivers
- Being overly cautious
- Demonstrating sensitivity to touch
- Being intolerant of tight clothing
- Avoiding activities like jumping, swinging, and climbing
Treatment for Proprioceptive Dysfunction
What fascinated me most while reading about the proprioceptive system and researching fun proprioceptive exercises for kids was the effects proprioceptive dysfunction can have on a child’s development. I had no idea challenges with proprioception can have such wide-spread implications, particularly in the classroom. I didn’t realize that a child with proprioceptive dysfunction can have trouble focusing and sitting still, that she might avoid certain activities, tire easily, and have trouble with self-confidence, but now that I have a better understanding of sensory integration as a whole, I have a greater appreciation for those who struggle with sensory processing disorder.
Sensory Integration Techniques & Proprioceptive Exercises
One of the best ways to help children develop is to find activities that feel like play instead of practice, and this collection of proprioceptive exercises (aka ‘heavy work’ activities) will allow you to do just that. Be mindful of how your child reacts to each activity and back-off if she finds them too scary or overwhelming, and make sure to speak with a professional to ensure you are choosing proprioceptive exercises that are appropriate for your child’s challenges and developmental goals.
A lot of these activities offer age-appropriate ways to get your little one to help out around the house, and since a little responsibility can go a long way in making a child feel as though they are a contributing part of the family, which subsequently helps to build their self-esteem and self-confidence, these ideas are a win-win in my books!
- Carrying groceries to and from the car
- Carrying garbage cans to and from the curb
- Carrying laundry/laundry baskets up and down the stairs
Pushing and pulling activities
- Mowing grass
- Raking leaves
- Shovelling snow
- Pushing a grocery cart
- Jumping on an outdoor trampoline or indoor trampoline
- Jumping on a crash pad
- Playing jump rope fun – I love these jump rope songs and this light up jump rope is pretty cool!
- Jumping jacks
- Outdoor climbing tower
- Outdoor climbing rope
- Climbing rope ladder
- Visit your local rock climbing center
- Go all out and install one of these indoor gyms for kids in your basement!
Deep pressure activities
- Have your child lie on her tummy and roll a therapy ball from her head to her feet while applying slight pressure
- Use weighted lap pads* or weighted lap vests* or weighted blankets* to improve body awareness and promote a sense of calm
- Wrap your child snuggly in a blanket and pretend she’s a burrito!
*Make sure to follow directions when ordering weight products to ensure the weight is correct for your child’s age and size. For safety reasons, your child must be able to remove the item from her body herself.
Oral activities for kids who need to chew
- Conduct a taste test with chewy and crunchy foods
- Ask your child to suck thick items like applesauce and milkshakes through a straw
- Chewing gum (I like Spry Xylitol Gum as it is aspartame-free)
- Chew jewelry (a friend of mine swears by the Chew Brick Necklace, Coil Bracelets, and Spiral Keychains)
I hope you found this collection of proprioceptive exercises for kids helpful, and that they gave you the knowledge and inspiration you need to find ways to turn practice into play both at home and in the classroom!
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