When I was at school, I was taught that humans have five senses: taste, sight, sound, smell, and touch. My allied health colleagues, however, would argue that we have eight senses: proprioception being one of them.
Proprioception is the awareness of the position of our muscles and joints in space. This sense allows me to close my eyes, lift my arm above my head and keep track of where my arm is positioned, all without ‘seeing’. Impressive! Thanks to muscle spindles (sensory fibres) that send information to the brain, I can form a map of my body’s position in space.
Some other examples of proprioception include:
- Balancing on one leg without looking down
- Clapping your hands with your eyes closed
- Playing ‘pin the tail on the donkey’
- Complex movements such as riding a bike.
For some children, proprioceptive dysfunction leads to difficulty maintaining attention and engagement, especially in the classroom (or remote learning!). For these kids, additional proprioceptive input can help them to regulate their bodies and, therefore, their attention.
Signs that might indicate your child is experiencing proprioceptive issues include:
- Always seeming heavy-footed and ‘stomping’
- Balance issues or appearing clumsy
- Lack of awareness of body, eg. leaning on or bumping into others
- Messy handwriting
- Preference for tight clothes such as those with tight cuffs or fabrics
- Frequently chewing or biting
Occupational Therapists are experts in helping children understand their proprioceptive needs. They provide strategies that help children to calm, focus and regulate. Some strategies might include:
- Heavy work strategies, such as:
Carrying a heavy item from the classroom to the office
- Deep pressure activities, such as:
Rolling a swiss ball gently on top of a child
Using a weighted blanket
Wrapping a child tightly in a blanket
At the Centre for Child Development we often work alongside paediatric Occupational Therapists whose input and strategies are incredibly valuable. If you have any concerns, therefore, we recommend you consult a paediatric Occupational Therapist for many more strategies and individualised support for your child.
Yvette Zevon is a psychologist based at The Northern Centre for Child Development, who is completing the registrar program in educational and developmental psychology. She is passionate about working with young people and families and is grateful for the daily opportunities to express her playful side.