The Proprioceptive System

Pushing, pulling, lifting, hanging…

When reading these words, chances are that you are able to imagine what they would look and feel like, due to you having already experienced these sensations in the past. This is called proprioception.

Proprioception is the sensation your brain needs to interpret in order to give you an idea of where your body is in space and how it moves through this space. The information from the system is derived from the movement of joints and the tension in the ligaments and tendons over and in the joints.

In general proprioception is a type of stimulation which is always calming to the systems, therefore this is a good type of stimulation to use when a child is over stimulated and needs some ‘modulation’. Modulation is when you are able to regulate the emotional responses to the stimuli you get from the environment. Lots of the children OT’s see in their practices, have a modulation difficulty and often needs the adults to help them to not feel over stimulated.

Proprioceptive seeking and low registration children:

You might recall that when a child has a high threshold, they might actively seek the input or just come across as though they are not paying attention to anything. At times we can look at a child and see that this child looks clumsy and sometimes very busy bumping and pushing things. They might be seen as rough and tumblers and play roughly with their peers. Children might bruise easily, but might not notice what hurt them. They may often hurt other children, not on purpose.  This is a typical picture of a child who has a low threshold for proprioceptive input.

Children who struggle to register and process the proprioceptive information, have been noted to have lower than normal tone in their bodies, struggle to maintain postures against gravity, often move around on their chairs during table top activities and might struggle to sit still during ring time. They are also noted to take risks by jumping of high surfaces. When looking at personal management tasks, these children are often observed to spill or misplace items. During perceptual tasks, they at times struggle to draw shapes properly and might over- or undershoot resulting in poor quality of their work while drawing. They might push harder or softer with the pencil than expected. These children need to be exposed to proprioceptive activities in order to get into the optimal arousal band where learning can occur.

Personally I have noticed that when I ask a child to draw themselves before a session where I work on proprioceptive inputs and then directly after, the pictures are incomparable. This is because as mentioned before, proprioception helps the child to develop the map of where their body is in the brain which enables them to draw it better.

I hope that you understand the proprioceptive system better after this article and feel empowered to help your child with their modulation difficulties. When it comes to activities and ways to help your child with their proprioceptive difficulties, the possibilities are endless. All it takes is a bit of imagination, time and love.

Happy Parenting!!