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.
See below for a quick guide on identifying proprioception issues as a seeker, avoider or sensory challenged and how you can help support your child with these struggles.
Proprioception Issues May Appear As:
- 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.
- 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.
- Unable to determine how much force they’re exerting on toys, pencils, etc.
- Not able to walk through familiar rooms in the dark without bumping into things.
- Accidentally hurt themselves or others while playing.
- Unable to walk up or down stairs without watching their feet.
How to Support Proprioception Issues:
- 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.
- 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.
- Practice writing on different textures, such as tissue paper, to determine how much force to use.
Read more about proprioception on the STAR institute’s website.