What is the Proprioceptive Sensory System?

Many of our kids require support with regulating their proprioceptive sensory system. Proprioceptive senses help children understand where their bodies are in space and how much force to use when moving.

The proprioceptive system is a powerful regulator and can help calm a child or energize a child depending on their own sensory needs. Think of how many kids you know who are constantly in motion/fidgeting or need support with balance and coordination as they seek to satisfy their sensory-stimulating needs.

Conversely, some kids require a lot of sensory input to stay in an up-regulated state. By tweaking the proprioceptive system, the receptors in our joints send messages to the brainstem to inform us about our body position in space. Most importantly this helps us feel safe.

The Sensory Perspective:

When we feel unsafe or disorganized because of dysregulation, the areas of the brain that control attention, thinking, and emotions may not function properly. Consider how dysregulation often occurs when children are faced with new or unfamiliar environments, tasks, or people. This same dysregulation can occur as a result of being unaware of their body positions in space.

Heavy Work and Occupational Therapy

From an Occupational Therapist lens, we promote the use of heavy work to help with the regulation of the proprioceptive system. Heavy work activities require effort from our muscles, and these tasks usually involve lifting, pushing, or pulling.

The movement activities create resistance input to our joints and muscles, and this feedback is ultimately what calms and regulates the sensory system. Once a child reaches this state, they can feel more oriented in space. In turn, these sensory strategies help kids self-regulate and sustain a calm state. This allows them to feel more comfortable to interact with the world around them.

Now that it’s summer, we wanted to share additional activity ideas that our clients and their families can do at home:

  • Riding a bike or tricycle
  • Swimming
  • Digging up dirt/garden
  • Digging up sand at the beach or sandbox
  • Climb up slides and playground equipment
  • March in place
  • Monkey bars

All of these things can be great ways to help work on getting your child to engage with their proprioceptive senses. And of course, if you would like more help with your child’s sensory needs reach out to one of our Occupational Therapists at Blossom for more info!

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