Proprioceptive Dysfunction Causes Sensory Seeking and Sensory Avoiding Behavior
This article provides helpful information for proprioceptive dysfunction and how if affects your child’s learning. Affiliate links are included for your convenience.
Have you seen the recent commercial for the new Lincoln? The commercial displays a grid completely surrounding the car and it describes how the vehicle knows where it is in relation to its surroundings. What the company describes is the car having a sense of orientation to space, or a proprioceptive system. Our bodies have a proprioceptive sense and it helps us become aware of where we are in relation to our surroundings. While the car relies on external cameras, radar, sonar and other sensors, our bodies rely on receptors in our muscles and joints that relay information back to the brain.
All children receive information from their internal and external environments through the following senses:
- Vision (ocular)
- Hearing (auditory)
- Taste (gustatory)
- Smell (olfactory)
- Touch (tactile)
- Movement (vestibular)
- Joint and Muscle Awareness (Proprioceptive)
Children respond to stimuli automatically. The term sensory integration refers to the process of receiving and responding to the incoming information. It begins when your child receives information from their senses, then the central nervous system directs the data to the appropriate parts of the brain, and the information is integrated so the child can respond in an appropriate manner.
In Sensory Integration and the Child, Jean Ayres, Ph.D. says, “If the proprioception from your hands were not sufficient to tell you what your hands were doing, it would be very difficult to button clothes, take something out of a pocket, screw a lid on a jar, or remember which way to turn a water faucet. Without adequate proprioception from the trunk and legs, you would have a very hard time getting in or out of an automobile, walking down steep stairs, or playing a sport.”
The proprioceptive sense refers to the sensory input and feedback that tells us about body position, movement and the sense of where you are in relationship to the space around you. The receptors are located in the muscles, joints, ligaments, and other connective tissue. Without this important system, we would not know where different parts of our body where when not looking at each part. To give you an example, close your eyes and take both hands and touch your ears. You were able to do this without seeing where your ears were because of proprioceptive input. The relation of where your ears are to the placement and movement of your hands through space.
Proprioception is all about body awareness, and ALL kids need this awareness for proper development. So if the proprioceptive sense is not receiving or interpreting the information correctly then it is a proprioceptive dysfunction. Sometimes when a child is inaccurately processing stimuli from their environment or from their own bodies there may be patterns that emerge showing either “sensory seeking” or “sensory avoiding” behaviors.
Proprioceptive Sensory Seeking Behaviors
Proprioceptive Sensory Avoiding Behaviors
As a result, many of these students become emotionally insecure in their academic abilities because of the challenges they face with their everyday tasks. Your child may start to avoid typical play experiences and start exhibiting low self-confidence. The fear of trying anything new may take over and your child will not be interested in learning new things.Children who struggle with proprioceptive dysfunction don’t always have a sense of their body in space, which makes it difficult for them to sit still, pay attention and visually remember numbers and shapes of letters. How can we expect our students to track words on a page, write their letters, remember facts and details, and finish equations if they can’t even sit upright in their chair? This is why many of these children are often up out of their chair and display signs of ADHD because they are constantly trying to work their muscles and joints. If your child is always trying to find their spatial awareness, they can be easily fatigued because their brains are working overtime to not only keep their bodies still and focused, but their minds sharp and ready for learning.When a child struggles with proprioceptive dysfunction, whether sensory seeking or sensory avoiding, it manifests in their learning environment. At school, the child will slump in their desk, or constantly move or kick their legs and feet. They tend to have poor posture when paying attention in class and often exhibit poor motor planning and body awareness. If your child struggles with this in the classroom, their body is most likely working to channel their mental energy on calming their nervous system, which is where proprioception is processed, instead of focusing on the intellectual functions of learning new concepts. In addition, if your child has poor posture or continually slumps in their chair, their ability to retain verbal information when sitting at their desk varies depending if their mind is free to receive that information. Children with poor proprioceptive input may find it easier to retain information while lying down rather than sitting upright in their chair. It could also mean they have retained postural reflexes from birth that also cause your child’s proprioception to be underdeveloped.
Learning Delays from Proprioceptive Dysfunction
Your child’s proprioceptive system should be fully developed by the ages of seven or eight. If your child has a proprioceptive dysfunction, they will likely appear to be clumsy, unbalanced, uncoordinated and have poor motor skills. As many of you know, motor development directly relates to your child’s learning ability in the classroom. Take for instance handwriting. If your child’s proprioceptors are not working properly, they may struggle to locate their thumbs and fingers when holding pencils or crayons. As a result, it becomes difficult for them to draw diagonal lines, circles and triangles, which are lines that eventually make letters and words on a page (M, W, V, X, P, B).
Your child may also hold their pencil or crayon too tightly or apply too much pressure when they write, causing their pencils and crayons to break. Because their proprioceptive system is underdeveloped, they don’t know how much pressure to apply when writing letters and words.
If your child has a proprioceptive dysfunction they may also show signs of visual processing delays, which can be mistaken for dyslexia or other types of visual and verbal disorders. As your child begins learning their letters for reading, they may have trouble remembering the correct spatial orientation and directionality of letters and numbers. This is why letters may appear to jump, jiggle or appear backward when your child tries to read them on the page. This is also true for sight words as well. What looks like “DOGS ARE CUTE” may appear to your child as “DGOS AER CTUE.” If your child’s proprioceptive input is fully developed, their eyes can track the exact directions of lines and curves in letters and words.
Overcoming Proprioceptive Dysfunction
A child’s proprioception can be strengthened and developed if the right activities and exercises are applied to their daily routine. You can incorporate large and small physical movements using their fingers, hands, arms, trunks, legs and feet to get their proprioceptors working. Heavy work is one of the best tools for helping your child overcome proprioceptive dysfunction.
Encouraging your child to participate in activities like pushing a wheelbarrow, moving rocks, carrying groceries, pushing a vacuum, stomping, jumping, hanging pictures and other activities can ignite their proprioceptors to create body awareness. These types of activities help regulate and calm your child’s body so they can focus on learning in the classroom instead of sitting still and attending to the teacher. These tasks become automatic when we feed your child’s proprioceptive system with the right activities that it needs.
A list of heavy work activities and exercises coming soon.
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning disabilities achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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