The Power of Proprioception

“Squeeze me.” Gabe asks for the tenth time, “Squeeze me harder mom.”

I lean over, and press his body against mine, gripping my hands together at the wrist behind him and squeezing as hard as I can.

“Harder.” He says quietly.

Gabriel needs deep pressure in his body to stay calm and organized, and I am happy to say that he is learning to manage this need in an adaptive fashion – asking for what he needs versus throwing himself on the ground or into his brothers.

However, he hasn’t always sought this input in such a socially acceptable way as asking with his words for it. And because of this, I have learned to be very creative in getting him the deep pressure he needs.

In case you have a child that runs high or simply craves this kind of pressure too, here are some tricks of the trade (please remember to use your common sense and consult your child’s OT before trying any of the therapy tools below):

Spio Suit: There is a fabulous company in Kent WA that has created what is essentially a lycra suit that a child can wear under their clothes to give them added input – pressure – all day long. The theory is that it allows your child to ‘know where their body is in space’ while doing normal day to day activities. This helps to maintain your child’s arousal level allowing them to practice skills such as social interaction, writing and physical tasks like sports. The suit can be purchased (or billed to insurance; it is a complicated process, but they are very helpful) in three different styles: The full body suit (think like a girl’s one piece bathing suit or a wrestlers leotard), a long pant (great for motor planning activities) or a long sleeved shirt (exceptional for writing/small motor skills). You can even get all three.

Weighted Compression Vest: When Gabe was in Kindergarten, this was my LIFE SAVER. The tool is really a simple Velcro vest, that fits tightly (with spandex elasticity) around the child’s chest. Then, you add weights around the outside (in small pockets) that allow for you to control how heavy it is – add more as your child grows, or when he is looking for more input. We used this for emergent proprioception. Gabriel came home from Kindergarten HIGH HIGH HIGH and he wore this vest, with 8 lbs of lead in it, for 20 minutes every hour until bed. And it worked.

Heavy Blanket: This is a common house hold item for many SPD families, but also underutilized. Although the blanket is great for a child to use while watching TV (preventing from going to low) or while sleeping (input to calm for sleep) it has many other uses as well. Try draping the blanket over your child’s shoulders, and have them carry it up and down the stair case a few times. When they step, the weight of the blanket helps to push deeply on their shoulders (helped out by gravity). If the blanket it is too heavy, try using a lap pad. Another way to use the blanket is to wrap your child in the blanket (burrito-style) and have them do log rolls – again, the pressure of the blanket with the push of their bodies against the floor gives extra input. Be creative – this is one of the best things you (probably) already own.

Backpack: Using your child’s backpack can be an easy and fun way to get input. If you are going to do this, first make sure you have a backpack that fits your child correctly, without being too big or too small, and with padding on the shoulders to keep them comfortable. Once the backpack is fitted, you are ready to load it up. Make an imaginary game, like “Book Delivery” where your child has loaded books to carry from room to room. You can try carrying food (canned food is a favorite option here) and be the “Grocery Man”. One of my son’s favorite games, now that he is older, is playing “Delivery Guy” on his bike – just fill up his backpack with something you’ve borrowed from the neighbor (real or imagined) and send him down the block to drop it off. Works like a charm. Gabriel thinks this is a privilege, so he is always ready to help!

Calisthenics: With my husband being a former Marine (“Once a Marine always a Marine”) I find that some good old fashioned PT (Physical Training) is a great way to keep my boys regulated. Jumping jacks, sit ups, pull-ups (we have a great door mounted pull up bar right near our family room), pushups and more – the boys like the feeling of being ‘strong’ and I like how calm and organized they are after just the simplest of “training”. Add in a dash of creativity, like playing “Captain” instead of “Simon Says” with the rules being the same – only they get to pretend we are in the Marines (or on Star Wars as the case may be). Click to view our pull-up bar.

Getting your child the proprioceptive input their body needs can have a huge impact on behavior, and hence social acceptance and self esteem. Many of the items above can be easily incorporated into your child’s day at school (often being unnoticed by the children around them) or just into daily routine. A small amount of proprioceptive input can have a lasting calming effect on the child for hours.

Having the tools our kids need on hand to learn to self regulate is a great investment, I encourage you to talk with your Occupational Therapist for ways these items might benefit your child.


Photo:  All three boys blowing bubbles, with Gabe looking especially cool. 


A special thank you to Tiffani at Our Journey Thru Autism, who prompted me to write this and also published it on her blog.  If you haven't seen what she is doing -- check it out today!


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I emphasize the movement/exercise recommendation - HUGE proprioceptive input to the muscles and joints through activity. Barbara

Martianne said...

Great post! And I am so glad you and Tiffani have connected! :)
As I type this comment with sleeping babe in lap, Luke and his sister are playing slide with a mattress propped against a piece of low furniture and the wall. whatever works, right? ;)

The Gaf said...

My son says "calm and organized" all the time thanks to your book.

"How are you today?"
"Good, Daddy- I feel calm and organized"

Hartley said...

The Gaf - that is HYSTERICAL! I love it! Thanks for sharing. And even happier that he recognizes that he is 'calm and organized'. :)


Tiffani Lawton, OJTA said...

Loved this post at Thank you so much for writing it. I am looking into the Spios Suits to add to our list of proprioceptive support!!



Trish @ Another Piece of the Puzzle said...

What a great list of ideas! My son definitely loves "squeeze therapy" as we affectionately call it. Glad to see you in the blog carnival. :)

Pierrette and Lorna dEntremont said...

Great post for the S-O-S Blog Carnaval, Hartley! The Special Needs's community is very fortunate to have you in their midst. Your informative posts always inform and encourage parents to go on. Lorna's Special Needs blog