Our proprioceptive sense and heavy work!
My daughter is a cheerleader and she is a base. She is responsible with 4 other teammates to lift their flyer in the air. That requires a lot of strength! At practice, they do it over and over again to get it perfected. As an Occupational Therapist, I am often recommending “heavy work”. Heavy work is any activity that involves using your muscles working against gravity or resistance.
This is all part of our proprioceptive sense. Our what! That is a big word. You can now use it to impress your friends. Proprioception is the sense of where our bodies are and how much pressure or force we have to use to move an object. The receptors for proprioception are found in ligaments, joints, muscles, tendons and connective tissue. If you have good proprioception you know where your body is in space. Think of the football receiver that can jump up, catch the ball and land with his feet in bounds. That is excellent proprioception! He knows where his body is in relation to the ball, in relation to the sidelines, how high he has to jump, when he has to jump, it is truly proprioception at it’s finest. What about the other side? What does poor proprioception look like? I think of children with poor proprioception as the “bangers and the crashers”. They do not know where their bodies are in space so they bang into walls, desks, other children. They seem to have no sense of personal space. They love to crash and fall as this gives a lot of feedback to their sensory system so that they can feel where their bodies are.
As OT’s we recommend heavy work for these children, it provides a calming and an alerting response to the nervous system. It stimulates those receptors in the muscles, ligaments and joints providing feedback to the nervous system about where their body is. Think if you were just floating around random all day banging and crashing into things, wouldn’t it feel good to have this extra input to your body, helping you to feel your arms, legs and other parts of your body. Wouldn’t it help you to feel more calm and grounded? That is what heavy work does. The other benefit of “heavy work” is that it stays in your system for one to one and a half hours.
I like to use purposeful activity whenever I can. A child is not going to be motivated to do something if it feels like work. But they will be if it is fun and it makes them feel like they are accomplishing something. Favourite activity for younger kids is “make the room bigger”. Ask the child to help you make the room bigger for Ms. Smith. Have them push against the wall as hard as they can with their hands, turning to use one shoulder then the other and pushing with their back. Older students can have jobs around home or school. Putting all of their toys into a bin and pushing them to their room. Filling up the wagon with toys and pulling it around the yard. Elementary and high school students can be given jobs around the school. Picking up recycling and taking it to a central location. Delivering lunches or carrying stacks of paper to the classrooms.
A great resource for activity suggestions is A Buffet of Sensory Interventions:Solutions for Middle and High School Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders by Susan Culp. Another must read for Sensory processing and intervention is Building Bridges through Sensory Integration by Ellen Yack, Shirley Sutton and Paula Aquilla. These are the two most dog eared resources in my OT toolbox and a must for anyone wanting to know more about sensory integration and helping children with these challenges.
Click here for Heavy Work Activities handout.