Friday, March 23, 2012

Proprioceptive Awareness

Who knew anything about the proprioceptive sense BEFORE you had a child with autism, I sure didn't!!!  Maybe this article will help you understand your child a little better!!!

The article is written by a David Brown, Education Specialist with California Deaf-Blind Services. What was interesting to me was that his experience in working with children on their audio-visual senses, portrayed the truth we know from working with children on their sensory system: that in order to improve the auditory and visual processing senses, first the proprioceptive and vestibular systems must be rectified. Because the former relies heavily on the latter.
Back to the wonderful definition of proprioception provided by the article:
The sense of Proprioception
The way we can ‘feel’ where all our body parts are in relation to each other (and also ‘see’ them in our mind’s eye), without actually having to touch them with a hand or look at them with our eyes, is an ability that we get from our proprioceptive sense. This sense helps us to plan, to position, and to grade our movements without always having to use vision to check what we are doing. You can feel this sense working if you close your eyes and place your right index finger on your nose, and then touch the same finger on to the tip of your left thumb; the proprioceptive sense is not infallible so you may miss your targets a little, but with repeated practice your aim will improve significantly (which reminds us that proprioceptive abilities can be learned through experience and improved through practice). Proprioception is a strange word, actually a combination of two Latin words that means ‘an awareness, or a feeling, of one’s own self’.
Take note. One’s proprioceptive sense can improve drastically. Improving proprioception means improvement in all other senses, as they are closely linked.
David Brown gives us more important clues to improving proprioception:
The proprioceptors
The receptors of the proprioceptive sense (which are known as the proprioceptors) are located in the muscles and joints throughout
the body, and they are sensitive to stretching and to compression. When this sense is working effectively the brain, at all times, has
an awareness of where the various body parts are in space, if they are moving or not, and how fast and in what direction they are
The article then tells us what a child with a dysfunctional proprioceptive awareness typically does, and we can now understand these behaviors. In summary:
- Child may not to want to or may be unable to push up on his hands or arms while laying face down due to low muscle tone or inability to feel joints in his fingers, wrists, arms, and shoulders.
- Child may not want to or may be unable to stand and bear his weight as he cannot feel the joints in his hips, knees, ankles, or toes, while simultaneously standing straight.
- Child may often use his hands to prop his head or lean against a chair, couch, or wall instead of sitting up straight.
- Child may stamping or foot-slap against the floor instead of walking, or the complete opposite- walk lightly on tiptoe.
- Child may have constantly clumsy, uncoordinated movements.
- Child may use too little force or excessive force when pushing, pulling, grasping, touching, lifting, or placing objects.
- Child may do any of these as he is seeking strong pressure input: squeeze himself into small spaces, twisting arms and legs around each other, swinging legs while sitting in a chair, grating teeth together, banging his face or head, flapping arms, hang or swing in the air, jump and crash down to the floor.
What can we do to improve proprioceptive awareness? The article provides a number of suggestions, which are familiar to those of us who have children in occupational therapy:
-Deep pressure activities
-Brushing (not to be done without an OT’s guidance)
-Joint compressions
-Weighted vests, blankets, or lap pads
-Playing sports
-Chewing gum or something else for chewing on
-Animal therapy
-Various “rough and tumble” activities such as a crash pad or a trampoline.
Each of these activities provides pressure or sensation against the body, giving the child a sense of where he and his limbs are in space.

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