Most people are familiar with the five main senses: touch (tactile sense), hearing (auditory sense), sight (visual sense), smell (olfactory sense), and taste (gustatory sense). Often less discussed, but equally as important, are the senses related to gravity and movement (vestibular sense) and position and movement of muscles and joints (proprioceptive sense). Sensory integration theories highlight how both the vestibular and proprioceptive senses are foundational to an individual’s development.
Proprioception plays a key role in body awareness and understanding one’s position in space. Our proprioceptors in the body detect changes in movement or position, and further inform the brain about any changes in muscle tension or force. Proprioception allows automaticity in everyday movements, such as taking steps without the need to look at your feet and the ability to navigate rooms while in the dark. The proprioceptive system, additionally, informs oral motor function and one’s ability to move food in the mouth and appropriately chew.
What may it look like when children have proprioceptive dysfunction or poor proprioceptive processing? The child may:
Proprioceptive input is also one of the main regulators in the body, which means it helps to calm an active nervous system and can help to organise a child if they feel overstimulated by an environment.
Proprioceptive input can enhance attention and focus and can be an effective strategy to regulate and prepare a child for activities throughout the day.
Occupational therapists can help to improve impaired proprioception by providing opportunities for “heavy work” which provide intense input to the muscles and joints.