Proprioception- essential for regulation
Updated: Mar 4
Proprioception is one of the main senses that I focus on in Occupational Therapy or any of my work with kids. It is your sense of where you and your body parts are in space, of where you or your limbs are moving and the force of your movement. It comes from receptors located in your muscles and joints. It’s what allows you to walk up stairs without looking at your feet, find your nose to scratch it without looking in a mirror, pour a drink without turning the bottle too fast and spilling, properly judge the distance between your body and obstacles to not run into anything, use the right amount of force to turn a page without tearing it or kick a ball into a net, tense your muscles the appropriate amount to remain upright, or figure out how to move in new ways to climb a wall or situate yourself on a slide.
Proprioception is a key modulator in the nervous system- it helps the nervous system to maintain an optimal arousal by upregulating or downregulating (energizing you or calming you down), or by changing the amount of sensation you feel. It helps to organize sensation and allows a person to feel grounded and in touch with their surroundings and their body, shifting a person from a survival fight or flight mode to connection and exploration.
Some signs that your child might struggle with proprioception or are seeking extra proprioceptive input to regulate themselves are:
They bite or chew on objects such as their fingers, sleeves, or pencil
They seem to lack awareness of their own strength (ie. Push too hard when writing, slam doors, frequently drop things)
They write very lightly or too heavily
They enjoy rough and tumble play, crashing, jumping and climbing
They walk on tip toes
They walk heavily or stomp frequently
They love being squished, hugged, or hiding in tight spaces
They have a hard time isolating body movements such as touching their nose with their finger with their eyes closed
They play rough with other children or pets
They enjoy hyper extending their joints or banging body parts together
They lack an awareness of personal space
They are clumsy or struggle with learning new ways to move their body
They have poor postural control and slouch often
Giving children opportunities for extra proprioceptive input throughout the day can help them make sense of their body in space and can help them regulate. Some ways to do this are through heavy work- using the body against resistance. Some examples are doing pushups, catch with a medicine ball, climbing, pulling a heavy wagon, swimming, carrying something heavy or helping with chores. Or see this post for more examples.