What is Proprioceptive Dysfunction?
Sensory overload is something that we all experience to a degree, but those with Autism Spectrum Disorder often also have a Sensory Processing Disorder or have sensory integration difficulties. This means autistic individuals tend to be more easily and more heavily impacted by their sensory surroundings. This is a seven part series in which I will address the different types of sensory disorders, help you identify them, and find some solutions. This fifth blog post addresses Proprioception.
Simply put, proprioception is the sense of your own body in space, without the use of other senses such as sight or touch. It derives from the Latin word “proprius”, meaning “own”. Knowing where your limbs are, relative to each other is attributed to proprioceptive sense. Often called the “position sense”, it is usually an unconscious feeling or state of awareness. Rarely, if ever, do we have to consciously think about whether our legs are crossed or where our hands are. For instance, if you walk in total darkness and do not fall over, you have proprioception to thank!
All of our muscles have proprioceptive receptors in them. When we move, these receptors send information to our brain to tell it where our body is. This allows us to look at a stage while clapping our hands or touch our nose with our eyes closed. We don't need to look at our body to know where it is.
Want to test you proprioception? Put a cup on the table & let go of it. Close your eyes. Now pick up that cup. If you can do this without tipping over the cup your proprioceptive sense is working!
How do I identify Proprioceptive Dysfunction?
People with Proprioceptive Dysfunction have symptoms that revolve around motor coordination, awareness, and balance. This is different than Tactile Dysfunction, which is a reaction caused by external physical stimuli or a lack thereof. Common behaviour in children and adults that could indicate Proprioceptive Dysfunction include general clumsiness and lack of coordination. For example, someone who is accident-prone and who regularly has bruises or scrapes due to running into or hitting objects may have a poor proprioception sense. Although this may vaguely describe your clumsy friend Steve, there are more specific symptoms associated with proprioception:
Poor Motor Planning and Body Awareness
Bumping into people or objects frequently, difficulty tying shoes, and having troubles on escalators are all signs that are tied to Proprioceptive Dysfunction. Using a pencil may be difficult because they don't know how much force is needed to properly write. They may drop the pencil or grip it too tight. Also, an early sign to look out for is when a child doesn't know how to move their bodies as they are being dressed or undressed.
Lack of Posture Control
Common behavioral tell-tale signs include slumping and constantly needing to rest their head on a table or hands while sitting. Balance issues such as difficulty standing on one foot could also be hints for Proprioceptive Dysfunction.
Sensory seeking individuals may be the loud ones in the room: banging their foot against chair legs, crashing into objects, and running around. They may not be able to understand the strength of their bodies and as a result, continuously seek out rough active behaviors.
Challenges facing individuals with Proprioceptive Dysfunction
Because of their inability to perform well with physical activities, they may feel insecure not just when it comes to sports, but in everyday tasks involving motor coordination or balance. Seemingly simple tasks turn into constant challenges for those with Proprioceptive Dysfunction. As children, this can be debilitating to their self-confidence. Unfortunately, the school environment often rewards those with the most sports prowess, while being particularly harsh to those who are uncoordinated and clumsy. For this reason, Proprioceptive Dysfunction can make young children emotionally insecure, and may cause them to avoid new activities altogether. They may associate certain activities with low self-esteem and be dissuaded from trying new things. Therefore, it is imperative to catch the signs early and find professionals to assist with sensory integration therapies that will help them with everyday tasks.
What techniques can I use to help someone with Proprioceptive Dysfunction?
- Deep Pressure Therapy focuses and calms their bodies
- Chewy Toys adds proprioceptive input
- Heavy work activities such as stacking books or moving chairs helps their bodies process movement
- Occupational Therapist recommended therapies
Learn more about Proprioception in this video!
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