The Proprioceptive System: The Sense of Body Position
Proprioception is the body’s ability to perceive and be aware of force and movement throughout the body. Proprioceptive receptors are located in the joints, tendons, and muscles. This important system helps us move about our environments without visually seeing the movement, such as walking without looking at our feet.
Proprioceptive Processing Dysfunction
Examples of proprioceptive processing dysfunction include:
- Frequently crashing, bumping, climbing, stomping feet, or jumping
- Uses too much (or too little) force in activities like writing or hugging
- Appears "lazy" or lethargic
During a sensory integration activity, such as crawling through a rope tunnel, it is important to evaluate your individual's level of tolerance with proprioceptive input. Proprioceptive dysfunction doesn't need to be "remedied" in every activity, but its role in the ultimate goal should be considered. A well-intended activity can be ineffective if the proprioceptive input is too low or too high and causes a distraction.
The SensoryRx™ Product Profile
Every product we offer features a SensoryRx Product Profile, with an input rating for the tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive sensory systems. These are the three main senses engaged when doing movement-based activities like swinging, climbing, jumping, and crashing.
We'll go through a few examples of how you can use the proprioceptive input rating to determine which sensory swings and activities can suit your needs.
Swings with Low Proprioceptive Input
SensoryRx products that offer less movement will typically be rated as providing relatively lower proprioceptive input. Use swings with low proprioceptive input if you are trying to minimize distractions and build other skills, especially for individuals who are sensitive to pressure. Or, you can incorporate activities that specifically focus on and gradually build the tolerance levels of the proprioceptive system.
It's all about your goals!
The HearthSong HugglePod Hangout Tent is designed to simply hang and feature minimal motion, but it can still provide opportunity for movement and socialization if desired. Here's two examples of activities with the hangout tent based on the goals for an individual with low tolerance for proprioceptive input:
Activity 1: Relax
Use the tent as advertised - hang out and relax! Close the door and window flaps to shut out all sound and light. The bottom of the tent has an inflatable pad, so experiment with having it in or out to try different levels of pressure. Give a gentle push on the swing or leave it alone and allow natural movement to happen on its own.
Activity 2: Play a Game
Incorporate a social game like peekaboo through the window and door flaps that will get the rider to crawl around inside the tent. The inflatable pad and instability of the tent will add new pressure sensations in the hands and legs compared to crawling around on a plain floor.
Swings with High Proprioceptive Input
Swings made of rope, stretchy fabric such as spandex, or are designed to make contact with a large part of the rider's body are often rated as providing high proprioceptive input. Use swings with high proprioceptive input for individuals that can be considered "sensory seekers," or those able to at least generally tolerate moderate to high amounts of pressure. Swings with high proprioceptive input often naturally offer higher vestibular and tactile input as well, which can be a great win for sensory integration play.
The HearthSong Blue Waves Rope Tunnel is designed for maximum sensory input across the board. Here's two examples of activities with the rope tunnel:
Activity 1: Crawl Through the Tunnel
Use the tunnel as intended and connect it to posts 16' - 24' apart. Hang the tunnel closer to the ground to reduce instability and make the activity easier. Hang it higher for total suspension and to build confidence through healthy risk! Having someone hold the tunnel still for the first few times will help the user get comfortable, because it is a good physical (but doable) challenge.
Activity 2: Make a Hammock
Span the tunnel across a shorter distance or don't pull the tunnel as tight so that the middle has more sag. We recommend hanging one side higher than the other to act like an inclined hammock. Climb inside, kick back, and relax! Add a swinging motion to incorporate some vestibular input or just enjoy the natural movement from sitting inside the tunnel.
No matter our sensory differences, we're allowed to have preferences, off days, and a change of heart. Progress is not fast, and it's certainly not linear. We're in this journey together to Find Focus through Movement, and if you have more questions about our products designed to work with the proprioceptive system, please contact us. We're here to help!
Resources: Casey Dravis, OTD, OTR/L
Writer: Katie Johnson, SRx Brand Manager and Special Needs Parent
Reviewer: Kevin Anderson, PhD, OTR/L, ATP