We have always heard that humans have 5 main senses; see, touch, hear, sight, and smell, right? Well, there are two more you may not have heard of!  They are called the vestibular and proprioceptive senses and are commonly referred to when talking about children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). In the previous post I talked about Sensory Processing Disorder, describing generally what it is and what it looks like. Here I want to go more into depth and talk about the vestibular and proprioceptive senses.

Vestibular (balance and movement)

Think of a time when you felt like you just HAD to move. Maybe it was during a long airplane ride, a long car ride, or something similar. This desire to MOVE is part of the vestibular sense. Some people seek movement and others might avoid it, but the sense is always heightened in a child with sensory processing disorder.

Vestibular Avoidance

A child who is oversensitive to balance and movement will likely;

  • avoid or seem fearful of movement activities
  • appear lethargic
  • seem to have low muscle tone
  • avoid moving equipment (swings, teeter totters, merry-go-rounds etc.)

Note: It is important to never force a child to participate in a task that she may be avoiding due to sensory overload or sensory dysfunction.

Vestibular Seeking

A child who is oversensitive to balance and movement will be seeking this stimulation constantly until her needs are met. Constant movement and energy is common with children seeking this sensation. A child in this situation reminds me of a person who has an itch that cant quite be pinpointed. In this scenario a person would continue to try to scratch until the itching sensation stopped. The same idea applies to a child who is trying to fulfill her body’s need for movement, she will continue to move until the need is fulfilled. Since this need is exaggerated, often times the movements are exaggerated. Instead of walking, this child will run. Instead of tossing a ball, she will hurl the ball as far as possible. When movement occurs, it is EXTREME.

Vestibular Activities

  • any BIG movements
  • any deep pressure
  • running
  • spinning
  • jumping
  • swinging
  • being upside down

Proprioception (body awareness/force)

To understand this one imagine yourself picking up a pencil in one hand and a bag of flour in the other. The force you use in either hand would be drastically different. If you used the force needed to pick up the flour when you picked up the pencil, it would likely go flying across the room. The proprioceptive sense is what helps a person differentiate the amount of force used in these two scenarios.

The force applied in any movement comes from the joints, muscles, and connective tissues in the body. Any activity that stimulates the joints, muscles and connective tissue will provide proprioceptive input.

Proprioceptive Avoidance

A child who has poor proprioceptive awareness is one who;

  • seems clumsy, bumps into things
  • holds objects too light (spoon, pencil, etc.)
  • seems oversensitive to touch (low pain tolerance)

Proprioceptive Seeking

A child who seeks out proprioceptive input would be one who;

  • gives hard high fives
  • chews excessively on nails, pencils, and other non-edible items
  • plays rough
  • enjoys tight things (clothing, being cuddled in blankets, extra tight hugs)
  • plays rough
  • over-stuffs mouth when eating

 Proprioceptive Activities

  • Bear Walk
  • push large objects
  • pull heavy objects
  • carry a loaded backpack
  • wrap up tightly in a blanket
  • climbing

Sensory processing disorder causes an extreme desire to seek or avoid different stimuli. By consistently feeding the needs of your child, she will maintain a more balanced, stable appearance. We all need sensory stimulation, and by understanding sensory needs you are providing you and your child with the ability to function at an optimal level. When functioning at an optimal level, meltdowns will naturally occur less often, learning will increase, focus will increase, and your child will begin to perform better.

For more information on how to figure out your child’s sensory system, sign up for my FREE Sensory Workbook.