Most people are familiar with the five main senses: touch (tactile sense), hearing (auditory sense), sight (visual sense), smell (olfactory sense), and taste (gustatory sense). Often less discussed, but equally as important, are the senses related to gravity and movement (vestibular sense) and position and movement of muscles and joints (proprioceptive sense). Sensory integration theories highlight how both the vestibular and proprioceptive senses are foundational to an individual’s development.
Proprioception, in particular, plays a key role in body awareness and understanding one’s position in space. Our proprioceptors in the body detect changes in movement or position, and further inform the brain about any changes in muscle tension or force. Proprioception allows automaticity in everyday movements, such as taking steps without the need to look at your feet and the ability to navigate rooms while in the dark. The proprioceptive system, additionally, informs oral motor function and one’s ability to move food in the mouth and appropriately chew.
What may it look like when children have proprioceptive dysfunction or poor proprioceptive processing? The child may:
Occupational therapists can help to improve impaired proprioception by providing opportunities for “heavy work” which provide intense input to the muscles and joints. Proprioceptive input is also one of the main regulators in the body, which means it helps to calm an active nervous system and can help to organize a child if they feel overstimulated by an environment. Proprioceptive input can enhance attention and focus and can be an effective strategy to regulate and prepare a child for activities throughout the day.
The above activities are general and not curated for individual needs. If you suspect your child may have challenges with proprioceptive processing, or sensory progressing in general, talk with an occupational therapist to determine the activities that may best support your child.
Katie Dahlerbruch is a pediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Center Los Angeles. As a Los Angeles native, she loves soaking up time in the sun and enjoying picnics year-round. When not having fun working with kids, she is checking out new restaurants and exploring local neighborhoods with friends and family.
At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.