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 intrinsic ability to locate itself and its extremities in space using receptors in the skin, muscles, joints, and ligaments. It’s also 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.

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.

Proprioceptive seekers may:

  • Enjoy jumping, bumping, and crashing into both people and objects–sometimes to the point of being unsafe.
  • Prefer rough play and constantly seem to be wrestling with siblings or other children.
  • Tend to stand too close to others and touch them without permission.
  • Crave pressure and bear hugs.

Support seekers by:

  • Having your child assist with household chores that put weight and pressure on the joints, such as carrying grocery bags and laundry baskets.
  • Encouraging safe and frequent climbing, jumping, running, and other playground activities.
  • Using a weighted blanket, deep pressure therapy, or bear hugs to provide extra pressure and comfort.

Proprioceptive avoiders may:

  • Avoid hugs and other types of physical contact or pressure.
  • Appear very timid around peers and avoid physical play.
  • Show anxiety or be exceeding cautious around swings, slides, and other playground equipment.

Support avoiders by:

  • Advising family and friends in advance that hugs or other types of physical contact are not desired.
  • Being cautious, attentive, and comforting around playground equipment and other children.

Proprioceptive discrimination challenges may cause a child to:

  • Be unable to properly gauge how much force, pressure, or tension to exert when using toys, silverware, writing utensils, or other objects.
  • Be unaware of how much force to use when brushing teeth, playing with other children, or petting animals.

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