Fall will end soon, and a new season will begin. A season full of cold weather, snowmen, sledding, and smells of peppermint in the air. During winter, we often find ourselves inside to escape the cold. Once inside, I wonder how many times you have had to tell your child “stop leaning on my walls.” Maybe during a snowball fight, you have had difficulty making snowballs because they keep breaking when you try; you cannot seem to get your force to compact them right during the building process. Then after a snowball fight, or making the world's biggest snowman, you find yourself or your children more calm and relaxed, but not necessarily tired. If these seasonal examples ring a bell for you, it may interest you to keep reading to learn more about your proprioceptive sense.
We all have receptors in our muscles and joints that relay information on what is going on within them. Our proprioceptive sensory system utilizes these to relay information to our brain about our body’s position in space, the force or pressure our body is using or feeling, and the length and tension of our muscles. Some individuals may naturally have an over-or under-responsive proprioceptive sensory system.
An over-responsive proprioceptive sense means the sensory stimuli are too much for the brain and body and thus overwhelm the system (i.e. your child is perceived as lazy or uncoordinated). An under-responsive proprioceptive sense means the sensory stimuli are not enough for the brain and body, and thus it is craved (i.e. you find yourself slumping in a chair, leaning on walls, or bumping into things). Of course, like many things in life, people can fall on either end, in the middle, or all over in between in regards to levels of sensitivity.
One way to identify some sensory preferences you have, or your child has, in relation to your proprioceptive sense is by thinking about the following questions:
Do you like light touch or hard touch?
Do you lean against things when standing?
Do you prefer sitting or standing?
Once you sit down, do you find yourself asking others to get things for you? Do you have a hard time getting up and down frequently?
Do you sometimes unintentionally use too much force? Do you slam doors/cabinets? Walk heavily?
Maybe thinking about those questions or attempting to imagine what it would be like does not work for you; maybe you are someone who needs to ACT to know. Another way to explore sensory preferences for yourself or your child is to engage in the following experiences that target your proprioceptive system. As you do them, notice how you or your child respond to them.
Build a snowman together as a family or by yourself.
Make some cookies from scratch, notice how you feel as you roll the dough.
Practice yoga poses by yourself or as a family.
Make a pile of pillows to nestle underneath or borrow a weighted blanket to try.
Play with something stretchy and resistant, like Putty, Model Magic, stretchy string.
Create a tape maze on your living room floor and practice walking heel to toe on the line.
Try different intensities of hugs with your partner and with your kids. Do you like the feel of the tighter hug, the lighter hug, or no hug at all?
Walk down your hallway, are you a loud walker or quiet walker?
Now that you have explored your proprioceptive sense, and maybe even identified some preferences you or your child has, it is important to recognize if your responses are neutral or are indicative of a proprioceptive sensitivity. One way to identify if you have an over, under, or neutral responsivity to proprioceptive experiences is by exploring this handout.
If at this point you are noticing that you or your child may have a proprioceptive sensitivity, there is no need to worry. There are professionals who are trained to assess, identify, and support sensory sensitivities and sensory processing disorders. Seeking out a professional for more information, assessment, and support is encouraged. In the meantime, we have listed some activities and guidelines to support both over and under responsivity to proprioceptive experiences!
Supportive activities for an over & under response to proprioceptive experiences (the goal is to engage in activities to the intensity that meets the need):
Engage in weight lifting for exercise; try doing a few pull-ups
Start-up home projects that involve carrying heavy items, hammering, or moving furniture around
Encourage heavyweight activities, such as having your children help carry in heavy boxes and the milk when returning from the grocery store
Treat yourself to massages, or see if your insurance covers regular massages
Take a brain break at work and stretch or do some push-ups
Have a snowball fight. Have an indoor soft-stuffies/ball fight.
Buy stress balls for you and your children
Bake bread or cookies with your children and both of you take turns kneading the dough
Create an obstacle course for the whole family to try
Allow for jump-and-crash activities in a pile of pillows or onann old mattress
For more information on the proprioceptive sensory system and Sensory Processing Disorder, please visit any of the links below.
By Celia Courser & Cary M Hamilton