By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 63


Free: Who Needs Heavy Work?

I mentioned proprioceptive, heavy work in the episode, which is a really calming sensory input. It’s mostly regulating for everyone, but there are some kids who benefit from it more based on their behaviors and needs. This free guides helps you determine if your kid benefits from this particular sensory input.

Episode transcript:

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Heavywork webinar

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Proprioception: What is it and How does it Support my Child?
Speaker 1 (00:00): In general, kids with proprioceptive processing challenges are often seen as the rough and tumble kids who are always roughhousing, wrestling, bumping into people or they're the ones who are uncoordinated or clumsy and bumping into people, but not in a intentional way, but more in like I am. I've got two...

Speaker 1 (00:00): In general, kids with proprioceptive processing challenges are often seen as the rough and tumble kids who are always roughhousing, wrestling, bumping into people or they’re the ones who are uncoordinated or clumsy and bumping into people, but not in a intentional way, but more in like I am. I’ve got two left feet and I didn’t judge the placement of my foot there, so I stepped on you or bumped into you. Welcome to the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura, OT and mom to Liliana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new OT mom. Bestie. I know my stuff, but I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 2 (01:01): Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast. Speaker 1 (01:06): Hi everyone. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we are talking about proprioception, otherwise known as heavy work. So for those of you who are not familiar, proprioception is also one of the eight senses, and it refers to the sense of our body’s position in space and how it moves through space. So remember, the vestibular system is housed in our inner ear. The receptors for the vestibular system is in our inner ear, and that tells us where our head, specifically our head is in relation to gravity. That’s vestibular. Proprioception is our entire body, our limbs, our, like every part of our body, the receptors for it are in our muscles and tendons and joints, and it gets activated anytime we use resistance in those muscles or tendons and joints. And that’s what informs our brain on our body’s position and how it moves through space. Little fun fact here, the highest proportion of proprioceptive receptors are located in your jaw, so that’s why sucking and chewing are very regulating and highly reinforcing to certain people. (02:24)But we’re going to get into that a little bit more later. So why are we talking about this? Obviously it’s one of the eight senses, but how does this impact neurodivergent children neurodivergent children that have difficulties with proprioception can of course, like all the other senses be impacted in their ability to function in their everyday life without a properly functioning proprioceptive system. An individual would display challenges that are more related to things like motor control, motor coordination, some postural awareness and control in addition to the overall sensory regulation issues that would present. So an impacted sensory system like proprioception can have impact on motor skills because theen of a solid foundation of sensory processing is really what allows us to refine the motor output and the way that we behave and move and explore our world. And that’s not just for proprioception, but proprioception is a huge piece of that. (03:36)So let’s talk about some specific examples of kids who have difficulty with proprioception. They might struggle with activities that require fine motor control. So if you have a child who has a hard time holding the pencil properly or buttoning a shirt or tying their shoes, and it’s not just the fine motor, the muscle strength or the precision of those things, but the actual coordination and the dexterity and the motor planning of it. So they could also have difficulty with gross motor skills, knowing how to jump with two feet, learning how to run with the proper form, climbing stairs, riding a bike, riding a scooter, or learning the new TikTok dance. I remember when what was it called? Flossing? Was there a TikTok dance called flossing? There was something with coordination, but we were using that in the clinic to motivate our older elementary school kids who had motor planning issues and we wanted to work on something that was relevant for them. (04:42)So we were teaching them how to floss <laugh>, you’re going to have to look up flossing if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It is a dance move I believe was on TikTok or something. But if they have a hard time learning exercises or dance moves or copying your body position. So if you did, Simon says, and you were like Simon says, put one hand on your head and one hand on your knee. It might take a little bit of time for them to actually plan out the motions and actually execute the motions. All of that can be related to proprioception. (05:14)In general, kids with proprioceptive processing challenges are often seen as the rough and tumble kids who are always rough housing, wrestling, bumping into people or they’re the ones who are uncoordinated or clumsy and bumping into people, but not in a intentional way, but more in I am, I’ve got two left feet and I didn’t judge the placement of my foot there, so I stepped on you or bumped into you. Some kids with proprioceptive processing challenges also appear to have poor posture or decreased postural endurance. So they’re always leaning over or they have a hunched over posture. They’re leaning furniture or leaning on people, but it’s really less about the actual muscular strength to hold them up and it’s more about the awareness of their posture. Sometimes it’s both, but remember, the cues from your proprioception system is what alerts your brain on your body’s position in space. (06:18)And if it’s not sending the cues to your brain that your body is leaning over or falling over, then you’re going to not respond to that by sitting upright. And so all of these things, the fine motor stuff, the gross motor stuff, the coordination, the posture, all of it together really can’t impact a child’s ability or anybody’s ability to participate in certain physical activities especially like playground activities or athletic stuff or even some fine motor games like we were talking about. And so of course socially that can start impacting them and maybe lead to frustration challenges or low self-esteem or low self-confidence, which by the way, if you want to hear about the difference between the two of those, head back to episode 60, I believe either 59 or 60 on the difference between low self-esteem and low self-confidence and how that’s impacted in kids with S P D. (07:18)All right, back to this episode though. So what do we do about it? If you have a child who has identified that they have proprioception challenges, first and foremost, I’m going to start here. I will always advocate and recommend in-person occupational therapy, but I say that with an asterisk to give a nod to everyone out there who maybe already knows that your child could benefit from ot. And you’re like, yeah, Laura, I get it. I would love to go to ot, but you still can’t access it. So I get that. I have to call that out. Again, I have to mention it. OT is really great at helping kids with proprioception difficulties. So if you’re here and hearing about OT for the first time an OT would really help build skills that are related to proprioception. And the best OT to work on this is one who works in a private sensory integration clinic. (08:24)If you want to learn more about how to get started with ot, which is a little bit more specific to the us, but might give you some places to start, head to episode 30. So just go to the ot to learn more. But I would say a private clinic that specializes in sensory integration is going to be the best equipped therapist to work with your child. Because remember, OTs work in a variety of setting settings. There’s OTs at the school, there’s OTs in the hospital, there’s OTs in the community. They work with people across the lifespan, but even within the pediatric setting, there’s different kinds of structures and offices that OTs work in. You really want to look at a sensory integration occupational therapy clinic to get the best OT who understands proprioception and how to help your child build skills related to proprioception. (09:17)Okay, but let’s say you can’t go to OT or maybe you do. What can you expect? How exactly do you work on proprioception, whether you’re doing this at home or ot, what is the best way to build proprioception skills? The answer is to provide more of it, to provide more proprioceptive input. So unlike most of the other senses like let’s say movement or the tactile touch sense or the sound where you very carefully need to consider the child’s particular profile. So whether they’re under responsive, whether they’re a sensory seeker, whether they’re sensory avoider or sensory sensitive, you need to very carefully consider their profile to decide whether or not to give extra of a certain input or accommodate or limit the same kind of input. So unlike those for proprioception, the answer to anyone that has identified proprioceptive challenges is to actually provide more of it usually through something called heavy work, not usually actually through something what we call is heavy work, which is proprioceptive input. (10:27)So children with body awareness difficulties who again, are impacted with their proprioception system so they have a hard time being aware of where their body is, aware of how it moves. And so they have a hard time coordinating gross motor or fine motor activities fine motor movements. They don’t have a good sense of their body in space, including their limbs. So if you don’t know where your body is in space, you just have no good sense or grounding of where your body is in space, how can you accurately coordinate its movements? So I, I’m going to use an analogy, a metaphor. I get those mixed up. My English teacher would hate me, but an example to help you understand what it feels like to have low body awareness. The best example I have for you is if you’ve ever driven a rental car or maybe a friend’s car that you’ve never driven before, whatever, you’re getting it into a car for the first time, remember how it feels to when you first go to parallel park that car or to change lanes on a busy freeway or a busy street. (11:41)So it’s not your usual car that you could maneuver and park and move with basically your eyes closed because you know your car so well. When you’re in a new car or a different car, you need to look at all the mirrors. You’re like triple checking your blind spots. You’re being very, very precise and cautious with your judgment. If you maybe bumped into a cone or worse <laugh> a wall or a car or a pillar when you were trying to park or something, you’d learn the hard way of where the physical boundaries are, the outline of the car, which would give you more information on that car’s body, on the body of the car and how it moves. That’s kind of like what it feels like with kids who have a poor sense of proprioception. They’re clumsy they need to think a lot about their movements. (12:37)And even when they think about it actually executing the movements can look kind of awkward and sometimes they might bump into kids. Sometimes it’s intentionally because they like that feeling because it gives their brain more information of where their body is in space. Sometimes they bump into people unintentionally because they have that lack of body awareness. So that’s my best example and hopefully that that helps tie things together and give you a good frame of reference. So every time our kids get input to their muscles and tendons and joints, heavy work or proprioceptive input, those proprioceptive receptors shoots a message up to their brain and tells their brain, Hey brain, here’s where I am. Here’s where my arm is, here’s how my arm moves and here’s how it feels. And it tries to create more information around that. The thing is, some kids with proprioception challenges need a lot more proprioceptive input, either more intense, more frequent, or longer duration of heavy work than others to even register that message. (13:48)So for those of us who are neurotypical and don’t have any identified proprioceptive challenges, the input that we get from gravity and from just being around our day and how we grew up as kids and the things that we naturally did with our body was enough for our proprioceptive system to develop on, on track or appropriately or functionally for neurodivergent. Individuals with sensory processing challenges who are autistic, who have other neurotype brains that have identified sensory processing challenges, their brain is not picking up enough on the organic ways to get proprioceptive input. And so they need a lot more. Some kids seek it out more, some kids don’t seek it out, but their body still needs it more. That’s the difference between low registration and sensory seekers. But the other benefit to proprioception to proprioceptive input that’s not just body awareness is that it is inherently calming to the nervous system. (14:45)It can help you feel calmer and it can help you feel more grounded. So if you remember Temple Grandon, she is that famous autistic adult who wrote books and did a lot of research on autism and used herself kind of as her own research subject. She created the hug machine, which is basically a huge machine that squeezes your body, kind of like a really tight bear hug, but it provides proprioceptive input. And she said that it helped her feel more calm and less anxious. And so what constitutes heavy work, and this is the question that I get a lot from parents, how heavy should it be? Is there a certain weight limit? There’s not like a particular weight limit. I will say that body, body-based weighted activities, so like hand squeezes or plank or wall pushes or animal walks, all of those provide really good proprioceptive input. (15:41)So any kinds of activities that involve pushing, pulling, carrying, jumping, chewing or squeezing provides input to the proprioceptive nerves and can be inherently calming and help you with body awareness and all of the other things. But quick caveat, not all heavy work is created equal, and you do really need to have good observation skills to help you determine when and how to properly integrate heavy work into your daily schedule. And this is where working with an OT can help. And I can only give you so much information to all of these people listening on this podcast that it’s not going to apply to every single person’s scenario. So I can’t give you a blanket statement of here’s the best heavy work activity to do with your child. What I prefer to do is help teach parents and educators how to think like an ot, how to look at signs of regulation and dysregulation, how to look at certain activities of movement and motor input and how they can see that looks like heavy work or that looks like it would be regulating for my child, or that looks like it would not be regulating for my child. (17:01)So I would prefer to give you to lend you my OT lenses and teach you that way rather than give you a blanket list of heavy work activities. Though I am sure if you went to Pinterest or Instagram right now and did hashtag heavy work, you’re going to see a ton of really good ideas, which is great. Again, it’s not all created equal though. What regulates and works for one child might dysregulate and not work for another. It definitely depends on a lot of things. So highly recommend working with an OT if you cannot access OT right now for whatever reason. Trust me, I get it. I know it’s not easy to access ot, like just snapping and saying like, okay, I’m going to go get an OT today. I get it. You can’t. Then you might want to take a look at my heavy work webinar for parents and educators, which I just recently updated. (17:49)In the webinar, I teach you more fun facts about proprioception, who specifically can benefit from it, how to provide it, and when to provide it throughout your day. I’ll show you some videos of some of my favorite simple ways to integrate heavy work throughout your day using little to know equipment. And again, there are just kind of some starting point activities to help you think and frame your thoughts about what heavy work is. And then the hope is that you can take that information and apply it to your own household with your own child or children. So if you want to grab that, you can go to the ot work webinar or just scroll down and head to the show notes for a direct link. Alright, I will see you next week. I hope that this was helpful and I will talk to you soon. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review, which helps other parents find me as well. Want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT Butterfly. See you next time.




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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