Proprioceptive input is my most commonly used sensory input during therapy. It can be used with a diverse population of children to calm, alert and help with focus. It is usually a sensory system that is not often understood.
Proprioception is the sense that tells the body where it is in space. It’s very important to the brain, as it plays a large role in self- regulation, co-ordination, posture, body awareness, the ability to focus and speech. Proprioception is the sense that lets us know where our different body parts are, how they move and how much strength our muscles need to use. The child who is looking up while climbing up the rungs of a ladder, and the child who is riding his bicycle on the track maneuvering through his friends are both employing the proprioceptive system. A child with physical limitations who is guided through daily passive movements of their muscles and joints, by their parent or therapist is gaining greater body awareness, and will therefore be able to motor plan more efficiently.
When receptors, known as proprioceptors, are stimulated, the arousal centre of the brain is provided with information about our movements and body position. Within this system, there are three major components of the brain which interact and impact a child’s level of alertness (the cortex, limbic system and cerebellum). A child’s level of alertness will impact their ability to sustain participation and attention in activities. Therefore, by providing children with proprioceptive input throughout the day they can be assisted to maintain an optimal state for learning and focused attention.
Proprioceptive input is an effective therapy tool used for children with sensory processing needs. It can improve focus and help to calm a child when it is used in the correct way.
Generally, your child will benefit from proprioceptive input if they fall into two categories.
Sensory Seekers: These are children who are often craving more sensory/proprioceptive input and it appears that they cannot get enough of the sensation.
They may present as:
Your child may additionally present with low registration or an under responsive for proprioceptive input. The following are some of the signs for low registration:
It is important to remember that many activities can provide proprioceptive input to your child, however there may be some that your child does not prefer. Bear hugs offer great proprioceptive input and are very calming, however if your child presents with tactile(skin) sensitivities, then this may not be appropriate. Jumping on a trampoline may also offer proprioceptive input, but if a child is allowed to jump for too long, then this input may result in the child becoming disorganized and out of control.
It is important to structure the activity. Jumping on the trampoline could be adapted to remain as jumping on the trampoline but only for the duration of their favourite song, so that there remains an end point.
Proprioceptive input is always as much or as little as each individual child needs. It is recommended that you develop a plan with your Occupational Therapist to make this input become a part of your child’s daily life. This is known as a sensory diet. It is overwhelming to think of a diet in general, but sensory diets can be life changing and will make every day routine activities manageable for a child with sensory needs.
Examples would be:
Proprioceptive input can be varied depending on which activity your child enjoys. You can be guided by your occupational therapist and look for changes in your child’s attention levels following proprioceptive input.
Examples of Proprioceptive Activities include:
You can incorporate ‘heavy work’ proprioceptive input into everyday chores by allowing your child to:
These activities also provide a lot of tactile input so if your child is sensitive to this then this may not be a good strategy to use. This input is often calming and is provided by a parent, teacher, caregiver or by an object. Some of the examples below can be used for children with more complex physical needs as the input can be applied passively.
**Weighted vests, lap pads and blankets should be used under the direct care and administration of your occupational therapist
Sensory Integration. An Approach to Occupational Therapy Intervention. Renee Waitling, Sandra Shefkind. www.aota.org
Focus on sensory craving. Brit Collins, Lucy Jane Miller, June 2010 www.spdstar.org
Sensory Integration Theory and Practice (Second Edition) Anita C Bundy, Shelly J Lane, Elizabeth A Murray
Sensory Integration and the Child – Dr Jean Ayres