Where Is My Body in Space? Proprioceptive Dysfunction

“Proprioception” is a word we probably don’t hear very often. But it refers to body placement, and the ability to sense where our bodies are in space. For most of us, through the many receptors in our muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints, we are able to sense what our body is doing, and whether we are crouched, standing, turning, sitting, or moving. We can tell how close we are to something else, and can sense our bodies, through the pull of gravity, even when sitting still. But for some children with special needs, this “body position sense” is weak.

Children with proprioceptive dysfunction can have a lot of problems managing themselves out in the world, because they tend to be clumsy, and invade other people’s space. Since they don’t have a good feel for where their body parts end and the air and objects around them begin, they tend to have poor motor control and poor motor planning.

Here are some symptoms you might observe in a child with proprioceptive dysfunction:

  • Grasps things so hard that they break or tear.
  • Falls and trips often, and has difficulty with team sports.
  • Has some trouble climbing up and down stairs.
  • Moves awkwardly—might have an unusual gait or keeps arms in a peculiar position.
  • Frequently bumps into other people or the objects around him. Gets into other people’s personal space and is clumsy.
  • Might chew, twist, or pull on his hair or clothing.
  • May be overly involved with her own body…i.e. making noisy sounds with her mouth, slapping her thighs as she walks, putting her hands on her face, wringing her hands, etc.
  • Can’t do physically complex tasks without help, and may need lots of visual or auditory clues.

Many of the awkward behaviors these children exhibit are due to their own attempts at self-therapy. They may roll around on the floor in a blanket, or bump into walls as they walk, in an effort to gain more sensory feedback.

The proprioceptive sense is one which helps systematize all the other sensations. So it’s an excellent idea to incorporate proprioceptive therapy for any child with sensory integration dysfunction. One excellent activity to provide therapy for these kids is to make a “crash pad” to use at home.

Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here. Some links on this blog may have been generated by outside sources are not necessarily endorsed by Kristyn Crow.

Much of my research for this blog came from the book “The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun,” by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A., an expert in sensory integration dysfunction!