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Proprioception (body awareness and body position)

Closely related to the movement sense is the sense of proprioception which gives us an awareness of body position. It lets us know where our body is in relation to the immediate space around us. It also lets us know how to move our body and how much force we need to use to carry out a task.

When proprioception is processed well, an individual's body position is automatically adjusted and this helps with every aspect of our day eg negotiating our way around objects in a room or preventing us from falling out of a chair.

Proprioception also allows objects such as pencils, buttons, spoons and combs to be skilfully manipulated by the hand or to pick up a glass of water without spilling it.

Our proprioceptive system has receptors located within our muscles and joints. These receptors or sensors are triggered when they are squashed or pulled apart during movement.

The proprioceptive system also has another role – it helps us to modulate and calm our stimulation level so that we can focus.

The video below talks about body awareness and why it is important to include heavy work activities as part of a child's day.

A child that is struggling with body awareness and body position might:

  • Appear heavy handed, over forceful and perhaps damage toys unintentionally
  • Walk into others while looking ahead
  • Trip over or fall from chairs
  • Have poor fine motor skills compared to peers, or difficulties with precision movements
  • Have poor body awareness, such as difficulty assuming postures in P.E.
  • Have poor use of force when writing, either too much or not enough

There are a number of ways that you can help a child with their body awareness and body position:

  • Involve them in lots of activities that involve effort such as playing tug of war: the proprioceptive system is stimulated by pulling or pushing and heavy work activities
  • Encourage them to wear a rucksack
  • Involve them in activities such as helping with jobs around the house: help with the gardening, pushing a trolley or wheel barrow or helping with heavy doors
  • Give them rewards for helping: the activities listed above can be very tiring so make them motivating so your child can participate in them little and often
  • Encourage activities that will help them such as swimming, trampolining, playground equipment, jumping, running, cycling, kneading dough or modelling with clay 
  • Create a ‘fidget-box’ of squeezy or stretchy toys (such as Blu Tack and theraputty) and allow your child to choose an object when they’re finding it hard to concentrate or calm down
  • Encourage them to do jumping and star jumps
  • Get them to do chair push ups where they sit on their hands and push up with their arms to raise their bottom from the seat
  • Get them to place their hands on their head and push down for a slow count of five
  • Get them to place their hands together in prayer position and push their palms together for a slow count of five