What’s inside this article: Up to 95% of autistic children experience atypical sensory processing, so this article first looks at how proprioceptive input affects children with autism. But, it includes signs of sensory challenges that can affect up to 20% of children, as well as 40 different proprioceptive input activities.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.
Recently, I published a series on the different sensory systems, including proprioception. If you’d like to learn about what proprioception is and how it works, click here
This post is diving into more information on daily activities for kids that offer proprioceptive input. Evidence shows this can help tremendously with both sensory seeking behaviors and preventing meltdowns.
Also, take some time to read how you can improve emotional regulation in 7 minutes per day which includes a fun daily workout that provides tons of proprioceptive input.
Proprioceptive Input and Autism
It is common for children and adults with autism to have atypical sensory processing. In fact, 95% of people with autism have sensory processing differences in at least one of the seven senses.
This means that one or more of their senses are over or under reactive to stimuli.
The proprioceptive system includes the muscles and joints and it’s the reason we know, subconsciously, where our bodies are.
For example, we know where our nose is even though we can’t see it, and why we are able to bring a glass of water up to our mouth and take a drink without spilling it.
Signs of proprioceptive challenges include:
- Messy Eater
- Poor fine motor skills. For example, messy writing, trouble with zippers, poor posture
- Roughhousing when playing, often hands-on
- Impulsivity and aggression
These behaviors may be to compensate for the sensory differences they are experiencing.
Some autistic adults have even described it as feeling as though their bodies are floating with no awareness of where their bodies are in space if they aren’t receiving enough proprioceptive input.
Engaging in activities that provide proprioceptive input with your children helps with body awareness, relieves some of the stress caused by sensory processing challenges, and improves self-regulation.
Planned proprioceptive input activities throughout the day can improve sensory integration, emotional regulation, and also prevent inappropriate sensory seeking behaviors.
Proprioceptive Input Activities
What are the best kinds of activities for proprioceptive input?
Activities that involve heavy lifting or pushing, stretching or compression, or deep pressure are all great ways to stimulate the proprioceptive system.
Heavy work activities can include household chores such as vacuuming and mopping, or outdoor playground activities, animal crawls and walks, using weighted blankets/vests, jumping on a trampoline, etc.
Whole-body activities provide the most stimulation but other activities like drinking a thick milkshake from a straw or squeezing a stress ball also give proprioceptive input.
I’ve created a list of simple activities that children can do every day. Occupational therapists recommend short but frequent sensory breaks through the day, rather than longer but less frequent periods of activity.
1. Fun Movements
Take a 5-minute movement break every 1-2 hours and engage in one of these fun, whole-body movements:
- Yoga – Get a free printable poster of kids yoga poses
- Wheel Barrel Walking
- Crab Walks
- Gorilla Jumps
- Rolling (down a hill, on a mat)
- This 7-minute kids workout
- This gross motor game which is great for days that you’re stuck inside the house.
- 8-minute workout for kids
- Dinosaur workout for kids
2. Oral-Motor Activities
These don’t give as much stimulation as a full-body movement activity but may be helpful in situations where your child needs to sit still for a bit (school, doctor’s waiting rooms, etc.).
This is because there are proprioceptors in the jaw.
- Chew gum
- Eat crunchy foods like baby carrots or celery
- Drink a thick milkshake through a straw
- Drink applesauce through a straw
- Use chew fidgets – these ones are my personal favorite
- Try a chewable oral massager
3. Fun Activities
These are simple activities that require an object or prop to play.
Most of these activities can be done at home.
- Pillow fights
- Skipping rope (I found a jump rope that lights up, which automatically makes it 10 times more fun)
- Scooter board – Have your child sit on the board and hold onto a pool noodle while you pull them around.
- Swinging and Monkey bars at the playground
- Using a crash pad – These are AMAZING, If you’ve got a lot of stuffies in your home, you can fill up one of these and then you have your own crash pad that doubles as a storage system.
- Playing with resistance items – like a body sock, a cuddle loop, or a resistance tunnel like this one.
- Jumping on a trampoline – trampolines have SO many benefits. If you’re tight on space, this trampoline folds up flat for easy storage and is under $50.
- Squishing – Get your child to lay on the floor and “squish them” by rolling a large exercise ball over them.
- Tug of War
- This kid-sized non-motorized treadmill is perfect for times you’re stuck in the house and your kids are bouncing off the walls.
- Swimming – swimming provides proprioceptive input to the whole body because the density of the water adds extra pressure to your body.
All sports involve movement and exercise that stimulate the proprioceptive system. This doesn’t mean you need to enroll your child in an organized sport.
Often, kids aren’t comfortable with the social aspect of sports. However, you can play sports games with them one-on-one or in small groups.
For example, games like dodge ball, kicking a soccer ball, throwing a frisbee, catch, or tag, are fun ideas.
5. Heavy Work Activities
These are all activities that involve pushing, pulling, lifting, etc that stimulates the proprioceptors in the muscles and joints.
- Wagon rides – Great for siblings. Have them take turns pushing and pulling each other in a wagon.
- Gardening – Have children help you pull weeds, dig, water the plants. These tasks all involve heavy work.
- Carrying in the groceries – It may be a chore but it’s also a great way to give your child a bit of responsibility, heavy work, and positive reinforcement for helping you out. My kids all love helping with the groceries.
- Play with a medicine ball – roll, throw, carry, etc. Just make sure that it isn’t too heavy for your child.
6. Therapeutic Items
These are therapeutic tools that can help provide additional proprioceptive input during the day. These items may be used by an occupational therapist, but can be used at home too.
- Weighted blanket
- Ankle Weights – These can be used on the palms or the ankles
- Stress ball – check out these silly emoji stress balls
- Deep pressure massage – Deep pressure provides proprioceptive input and deep pressure massage can also help kids with tactile defensiveness who have sensory issues to clothing.
- Therapy putty, silly putty, etc – this stuff is super cool.
- Other weighted items like vests, or weighted lap/shoulder pads.
Children with sensory processing differences may lack the awareness to know where they are in time and space.
It’s why the may seem to never stop moving or are always crashing into things- they’re trying to get grounded by seeking proprioceptive input.
Activities that provide proprioceptive input can help give them that grounding and increase body awareness. It’s an integral part of a sensory diet, so get ready to have some fun with your sensory seeking kiddos!
Don’t forget to also check out how kids can calm down by hanging upside down and learn about