I’m going to share a little information on daily activities that you can do with your children to give them more proprioceptive input which can help tremendously with sensory seeking behavior. Also, take some time to read how you can improve emotional regulation in 7 minutes per day which includes tons of proprioceptive input activities.
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Proprioceptive Input and Autism
It is common for children and adults with autism to have atypical sensory processing. In fact, 95% of people of with autism have atypical sensory processing 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 senses include the well-known 5 senses: smell, taste, touch, sound, and sight, as well as the less commonly mentioned senses: vestibular (inner ear), proprioception, and interoception.
The proprioceptive system includes the muscles and joints and it’s the reason we know, subconsciously, where our bodies are. It is the reason why 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.
If a child’s proprioceptive system is atypical they may be clumsy, messy eaters, have poor fine motors skills – such as messy writing, or trouble with zippers, have poor posture. They may also seem to rough house all the time and generally seem to be more “rough” than they realize. Impulsivity and aggression issues are also common, it may seem as though they are very “hands-on” in many situations. These behaviors are 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 if they aren’t receiving enough proprioceptive input.
Participating in activities that provide proprioceptive input with your children helps with body awareness and relieves some of the stress caused by experiencing differences with this system. Planned proprioceptive input activities throughout the day can 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 wonderful. This can include household chores such as vacuuming, and mopping, 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 reccomended short but frequent sensory breaks through the day, rather than longer periods of activity.
1. Fun Movements
Consider taking a 5-minute movement break each hour and engaging in one of these fun, whole body movements:
- Wheel Barrel Walking
- Crab Walks
- Gorilla Jumps
- This 7-minute kids workout
2. Mouth 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.)
- 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
3. Fun Activities
These are activities that require an object or prop to play.
- Pillow fights
- Skipping rope
- Scooter board – Have your child sit on the board and hold onto a pool noodle while you pull them around. (Amazon has some super affordable options, like this one here for $12.52 (as of 09/22/2017)
- Swinging and Monkey bars at the playground
- Using a crash pad – These are AMAZING, you can purchase them from Fun and Function here. Or if you enjoy DIY activities, you can make your own – instructions here
- 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. This mini trampoline is child size and affordable.
- Squishing – Get your child to lay on the floor and “squish them” by rolling a large exercise ball over them.
- Tug of War
4. Therapeutic Items
These are therapeutic tools that can help provide addition 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
- Stress ball – check out these silly emoji stress balls
- Therapy putty – this stuff changes colors
Children with sensory processing differences often don’t 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. 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.