“Proprioception”. It’s a bit of an odd word and also tricky to pronounce. But its significance is indisputable, particularly for some neurodiverse people.
Proprioception is essentially the sense of one’s own body – in terms of body movement and balance, as well as how different parts of the body relate to each other.
Proprioception refers to the part of our sensory system that responds to force and pressure. It helps us to interpret sensory stimulus through receptors in our inner ear and the stretch receptors in our muscles and ligaments.
It enables us to move our arms and legs without needing to look directly at them and provides us with a sense of body awareness when interacting with others.
When we have difficulties with proprioception our sensory system can become confused and it can impact our movements and coordination.
Proprioception can be a complicated matter, especially in Neurodiverse people who may experience varying differences associated with this sense.
A problem in this area can lead to loss of balance, not knowing where oneself begins and ends, hand-eye-coordination and so on.
People may experience some of these difficulties below if they need support with their proprioception senses:
- Fall over and/or are clumsy (especially with hand/eye coordination activities)
- May misjudge the amount of force needed for tasks (as a result may drop items when carrying).
- May find sitting at a desk difficult (may slump or rest head on hand).
- May find their hand aches when writing (due to applying too much pressure).
- May become overwhelmed by too much sensory stimulus
How to regulate proprioception
So what can we do to regulate proprioception? What are the different types of supports that we can try in order to bring more opportunities for calm in the day?
Using deep pressure supports is key. It can help regulate our sensory system and improve our balance and coordination.
The calming effects of deep pressure support
‘Deep pressure’ refers to exercises and activities that place a level of pressure on our body’s muscles in order to wake them up and/or stretch them. This could be in the form of a weighted blanket that targets a ‘hug like’ response in your body or the use of stretch exercises and a muscle roller.
Due to the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin many people report these types of exercises can be very calming and relaxing.
Deep pressure is used to calm your body at times of stress. But it can also be used to wake your body up at times of low energy, making proprioception support the ‘go to’ regulatory support throughout your day.
It is helpful to think of deep pressure supports in four ways:
Firstly, continuous pressure: this gives the effect similar to a hug and refers to a weight that is held for a continuous length of time. These are supports such as weighted blankets, deep pressure vests and squishing with pillows. They offer a prolonged amount of pressure to the body and induce a calming effect similar to a hug.
Next is targeted pressure: This refers to exercises and supports that target a specific area such as back or muscle group. This is my favourite form of deep pressure as it is instant but not as constricting as weighted therapy.
In addition to home supports, it is always helpful to think of the types of supports you can bring with you when on the go. These are small proprioception supports that can be used when out of the house and throughout the day.
Moh-doh calm is a great example of this type of support because it gives pressure to the hands inducing a calming effect and is small enough that it can be easily placed in a bag.
Lastly, oral supports help our internal system (interoception) through proprioception and bring calm. When you think of proprioception oral supports think of anything that is chewy or crunchy.
Dried mango is one of my favourite proprioception supports and brings me instant calm when I eat it. Another helpful support is using a straw to drink thickened liquid such as a milkshake or smoothie. The sucking motion brings proprioception support to your face and mouth helping you to calm your sensory system. Lastly, a BPA free chewie is also a great way to bring instant oral support on the go.
About Jessica Dark
Jessica Dark is the creator of www.hyggeme.uk and Facebook Group “Supporting and Celebrating Neurodiversity”. She support teens and adults to find sensory and anxiety supports that promote calm and regulation.
Hygge is a Nordic word that refers to the feeling of comfort, connection and calm. Hygge was initially born out of Jessica’s own need for support. She describes herself as part of the ‘Lost Neurodivergent Generation’ – the generation of children where neurodiversity went unrecognised and consequently unsupported.
It was only when two of Jessica’s children were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum that she realised why she experiences the world the way she does. Prior to this she had no understanding as to why she had regular headaches, fatigue and meltdowns.
In her pursuit to understand herself and her children better she went on an educational and spiritual journey, studying psychology and reiki. Jessica is now at the University of Roehampton studying her Masters in Special Educational Needs.