Sensory Spotlight: Proprioception (External Bodily Awareness)

This is the eight installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

Proprioception, also known as kinesthesia, is the body’s ability to locate itself and its extremities in space using receptors in the skin, muscles, joints, and ligaments. It’s responsible for knowing how much effort to use when performing simple tasks, such as lifting a glass or using a pencil. Children with proprioceptive processing issues may have trouble gauging their own strength, or they may appear clumsy and frequently bump into walls, furniture, or other people. You can read more about how the proprioceptive system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

Proprioception isn’t as commonly known as sight or smell, but it’s a critical component of knowing how your body is positioned in relation to the world around you and how it should be moving. It’s how you’re able to walk up a flight of stairs while looking at your phone or find your way to the bathroom in a dark house.

See below for a quick guide on identifying proprioceptive seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Proprioceptive Seekers May:

  • Bump or crash into people or objects on purpose.
  • Enjoy rough play and constantly seem to be wrestling with siblings or friends.
  • Tend to stand too close to others or touch others without permission.
  • Crave bear hugs, holding hands, and other kinds of physical pressure.

Proprioceptive Avoiders May:

  • Avoid physical contact with others.
  • Appear very timid around peers and avoid physical play.
  • Refuse to play around slides, swings, and other playground equipment.
  • Become anxious in crowded spaces or when standing even somewhat close to others.
  • Be unable to properly assess risk in their physical environment. For example, they may believe they can fall into the small gap between the floor and an elevator.

Those with Proprioception Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Be unable to determine how much force they’re exerting on toys, pencils, etc.
  • Be unable to walk through familiar rooms in the dark without bumping into things.
  • Accidentally hurt themselves or others while playing.
  • Be unable to walk up or down stairs without watching their feet.

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