Big word. Significant sensory phenomenon. It is related to what we call the “Sense of Touch”. Strangely enough, we are mostly unaware of this sense — but we would be at a tremendous disadvantage if it was damaged or not functioning as it should. We use it all the time in so many ways — reaching out for something, placing our fingers on a keyboard and then tapping on the keys, bringing food to our mouth, climbing stairs, going up or down a slope/ramp, and so on. It is the body’s internal way of informing us of where we are in space. It is also the way our body connects touch with our motor functions.
Read more about proprioceptive dysfunction in books by A. Jean Ayres or Carol Stock Kranowitz (e.g., The Out-of-Sync-Child) and what they call the “position sense”. The receptors for this sense are internal — inside our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue. In the field of deafblindness, we often refer to “distance” (vision, hearing) senses, and “contact” (touch, taste, smell) senses. The proprioceptive sense is our “deep” sense. Why is it important to know about this sense? If it is not functioning in a child, it means that the child cannot experience the world in the same way as most of us do. And it shows up mainly in what people consider “behaviors”. So what we may think of as just plain “klutzy”, may be a dysfunction. What might we look for?
- A child who takes a really long time to perform an action — although you can “see the wheels turning”. His brain and body parts are not working in-sync with each other — and it is a lot harder to do tasks we take for granted.
- Directions become a puzzle — how does one move forward or backward? Right and left are just words and actions may not match up. In fact, it may seem like a child is deliberately going in the wrong direction with his foot, hand, body.
- A child who reaches for something — and knocks it over because the action was done too fast, with too much pressure. Or something slips out of his grasp because he cannot figure out how hard he should grip it — even if his hands have the strength to grip hard. Maybe he bangs too hard on his drum, or holds your hand really tight and cannot seem to “let go”.
- A child who cannot seem to maintain posture, slumps, leans on his arms when at a table, leans one way or the other, and may often lose balance. He has an especially difficult time on stairs or ramps — and finds it impossible to ride an escalator.
- A child who flails around and is very fearful if you lift his feet off the floor.
- A child who is strong enough to walk, but does so only if he is able to be in contact with something — furniture, railings, even a wall.
- Some children who appear ambidextrous, but may actually be struggling with figuring out which one works better — and for what activity.
Here’s an article that has a long list of behaviors: http://www.cherringtonsawers.com/tactile-vestibular-and-proprioceptive-senses.html
And then — Read this article for some ideas on some things you can do to help: http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/heavy-work-activities.html The article ends with a long list of ideas!
Creating resistance seems to help — weighted items (blankets, lap blankets, vests, shoes, hats, spoons and other utensils) could be useful. Stretchy, but close-fitted clothes sometimes help (e.g., spandex tights, a fitting undershirt). Thera bands or body sox may be fun too.
For some children, they can sometimes “get their act together” if they are allowed to “re-group” in some way. A child may lie down (usually, on his back). He may cross his legs to weight one with the other. He may also cross his arms over his chest.
Enough said for now. But do try to imagine how you would function if your proprioceptive sense was not! It might give you some clues on what a child in your care (or an adult you know!) might be going through.