Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Proprioception: Knowing Where You Are In Space

Proprioception is one of the less known senses. It is the sense that lets you know where you are in space. This is needed to not bump into things or to turn around and back into a chair without falling. It also contributes to coordination, grading the pressure of your movements, timing, and speed. If it weren't for proprioception, we would look clumsy during our movements and they would appear segmented or robotic. Timing and speed are obvious during a game of soccer or when a baby is learning to walk and then can't stop because he's using momentum! Also, proprioception deals with grading movements such as when you pick up an item you think will be heavy, but it was light-weight. If your body didn't correct for this, the item would go flying across the room. Kids with problems with proprioception may break toys, crayons, and pencils accidentally. They may also be messy eaters and known as a "Dennis the Menace" or an "accident waiting to happen".

So, where are the receptors for proprioception? All throughout your body, but especially at your joints, muscles, and also within your vestibular system (sense of balance and motion within the inner ear). But enough of the technical lingo. Below are some suggestions on promoting a good sense of proprioception in babies and toddlers:

  • Let the children play with a variety of toys: balls to roll, rolling cars, tummy time mat, exercise ball, rocking horse, ride-on toy, push and pull toys such as a wagon, doll stroller, or "grocery cart"
  • Let the children play in a variety of positions: tummy time, sitting, rolling, & standing while on the floor; climbing on the furniture and crawling under or over items.
  • Let the children play in a variety of locations: inside different rooms of the home, restaurant indoor playground, playground indoors at mall. Outdoors: your yard, park, swinmming pool, etc.
  • Play animal walks: bear crawl (AKA downward dog in the yoga world), donkey kicks, slithering snakes on the belly, crabwalk, and any other pose that requres that the child hold his body weight with his muscles
  • Resistive activities: carry backpack or fanny pack, push wagon or inverted laundry basket, pulling toys that are lying on a blanket for a "magic carpet" ride, or any activity that is "heavy work". Remember to limit the weight to only an extra 5-10% of the child's body weight. 2 rolls of pennies is a pound and these rolls could be placed within a backpack or pockets to jacket to add resistance as the toddler is running around. Adult wrist weights could also be added to the tot's ankles for extra resistance. If the tot weighs 30 lbs., do not add more than 3 lb. of weights to his ankles.
  • Basically, remember that the first two years of life are known in the child development world as the sensorimotor stage. Young little ones should not be couch potatoes...which means neither should we as parents and/or caregivers. Get down on the floor and JUST PLAY!
  • During daily routines, offer sensory input to all of the senses: touch, sight, movement, taste, smell, hearing. See for ideas to do this with a baby during daily events such as car rides, bathing, etc. as well as during play
  • Minimize the time a baby is in a positioning device! The baby needs to feel movement against gravity unassisted by a device that he/she is likely to lean on.
  • Exercise classes such as "mommy and me" are fun too
  • Infant massage aids in body-in-space awareness as well as the sense of touch

1 comment:

  1. I have read you link for daily routines. My eleven month old boy has just been diagnosed low registration and sensation seeking and we have been told he needs proprioceptive heavy work. He has always been quite active, and I play rough with him (he likes it!).

    The real trouble we have is his sleep. We can get him to fall asleep but he does not stay asleep. He wakes every two hours, sometimes hourly and half hour. For most of his eleven months we have co slept, but he still wakes. We are trying sleep training, but he is still waking. Why does he wake so often? Do you have any thoughts on how to help a baby STAY asleep?

    Thank you for your website!