Proprioception, or the body’s ability to sense itself, can be a complicated matter, especially in children with academic, social or behavioral issues like ADHD, Asperger’s and sensory processing disorder. Proprioceptive dysfunction has been observed in such children, as many of them have difficulty knowing where their body is in space and understanding boundaries when playing and interacting with other children.
How Does Proprioception Work?
Proprioception is guided by receptors in the body (skin, muscles, joints) that connect with the brain through the nervous system so that even without sight, a person knows what his or her body is doing. Vision plays a key role in the ability to sense one’s body in space. However, vision is not necessary for a person to understand body ownership. Only proprioception is necessary for the development of body awareness and may already be present in newborns.
Many children with processing disorders report feeling scattered or disjointed which may be related to a faulty proprioceptive sense. Children who are clumsy, uncoordinated, and sensory seeking are often experiencing proprioceptive dysfunction. The following are common signs of proprioceptive dysfunction:
Sensory Seeking (pushes, writes too hard, plays rough, bangs or shakes feet while sitting, chews, bites, and likes tight clothes)
Poor Motor Planning/Control & Body Awareness (difficulty going up and down stairs, bumps into people and objects frequently, difficulty riding a bike)
Poor Postural Control (slumps, unable to stand on one foot, needs to rest head on desk while working)
These children often self regulate by engaging in behaviors that provide proprioceptive input such as toe walking, crashing, running or flapping. One study found that proprioceptive difficulties among children may contribute to decreased motor planning and postural control leading to disruptive behaviors that negatively affect their participation in daily tasks.
Heavy work or tasks that involve heavy resistance and input to the muscles and joints is essential to regulating proprioception. Evidence suggests that the sensorimotor cortex that governs proprioception is not fixed and can be changed through external manipulations. Therefore, when the sense of proprioception is disturbed, like in many neurological disorders, there is hope that it can be improved through the use of sensory integration therapies that specifically target proprioceptive input. Frog jumps, bear hugs and climbing monkey bars are just a few activities that may help a child who struggles with proprioceptive dysfunction.