Let’s look at senses as a tool for maximizing our children’s learning in the comfort of home surroundings.
The global pandemic has come down to a household incubation. We are taking it one day at a time (sometimes one hour at a time). Having adjusted to my at-home desk sitting across from our piano; my husband’s work station (set within 10 yards of mine) is spread across our formal dining table. Zoom classes can be heard from our kids’ rooms accompanied by my son’s radical vocal sounds. Throughout the school day, our house is rattled by my son’s exuberant, full-of-life movements—we hope our second-floor ceiling will not give in.
With our kiddos learning from home, the isolated space inhibits their natural bodies’ need for movement. For our young ones, that stimulation is a vital component of their well-being.
Beyond the five core senses—smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound, there are two lesser-known senses called proprioceptive and vestibular senses.
Proprioception, located in our muscles and joints, supports body awareness and controls force and pressure. Vestibular sense refers to a sensory system responsible for providing our brain with information about where it is in the space; along with coordination and balance.
According to the Child Mind Institute “kids with sensory processing issues experience too much or too little stimulation through these senses”. These hypo and/or hypersensitivities directly affect how our students learn.
Implementing proprioceptive movements at home
Proprioceptive movements, such as jumping on a trampoline, help children wake up their muscles to a state of alertness that promotes engaged learning. The input may not balance their energy output, so in different ways they are trying to balance both ends like a teeter-totter.
For example, every 30 minutes, at minimum, my son’s door creaks open as he stands hovering, waiting for me to give him what he calls a “tackle hug”. The requirements to deliver the proper tackle hug are strict. It constitutes a forward action with my arms wrapped around him onto a cushioned surface; as if fulfilling my role as a linebacker taking down my opponent with no mercy (I ease up on the no mercy part with my son).
The following activities can be done anywhere, especially at home.
Proprioceptive exercises can include:
- Chair push-ups
Sitting with upright posture in a chair, the child puts his/her hands on the side of the seat. The child then lifts and holds his/her bottom off the seat
- Wall push-ups
Instruct your child to put both hands on the wall with his/her feet a little farther than arm’s length back from the wall. Tell him/her to lean towards the wall and push back out
- Bear hugs
Wrap your arms around your chest or knees and give yourself a firm hug. Or you can share bear hugs
- Use a handheld pencil sharpener
The act of holding and turning the pencil with one hand provides proprioceptive input for the hands and fingers
You can add these movements to your child’s daily schedule by making it a fun activity and participating with them. Better yet, make it a competition—something I know my son would enjoy. When it’s time to keep your child engaged, finding a balance to provide all the necessary input can be challenging. Try one addition at a time and determine what works well with your child.
As we take a closer look at how to incorporate vestibular movements, let’s try to break down what it means and how it can affect our bodies.
Responding to sensitivity of the child’s vestibular senses
The vestibular system refers to the anatomical inner part of our ears that detects both movement, and changes in our head position. It tells you when your head is in an upright position and even when your eyes are closed.
Depending on the child’s level of sensitivity to their vestibular system, their sensitivity can manifest itself in fear of everyday movements (i.e. swings, slides, or ramps). Or a child may have a fear of certain spaces (i.e. learning to climb or walking on unstable surfaces) and as a result, may appear clumsy.
When children on the spectrum are hypersensitive, they may exhibit constant movements such as spinning or jumping.
For my son to stay focused on his schoolwork, he required a constant amount of stimulation that fed both his proprioceptive and vestibular systems.
To quote the movie Short Circuit, where Johnny number 5 declares: “I need input!”
Here are some useful sensory seats for vestibular stimulation while learning:
I ordered these products for both my kids (one is not on the spectrum) to help with online learning at home. These chairs have worked out great! The ball chairs are backless, and therefore suitable for children who can use it safely. These chairs are great for your kids’ posture and core, but be prepared to inflate regularly, depending on the amount of bouncing.
Additionally, other useful gadgets are handheld or can be easily placed nearby when your child requires more stimulation.
These tools can aid your student with any fidgetiness:
We are always striving for balance, in more ways than one. By finding new and meaningful ways to engage with your children to support our children in their learning, we can reconnect by waking up our own sense
Centre for Autism Middletown. Strategies according to sense. Retrieved November 9, 2020. https://sensory-processing.middletownautism.com/sensory-strategies/strategies-according-to-sense/proprioceptive/
Child Mind Institute. Sensory Processing FAQ. Retrieved November 11, 2020. https://childmind.org/article/sensory-processing-faq/oYour Therapy Source. 10 proprioceptive activities for the classroom. Retrieved November 7, 2020. https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2017/05/17/proprioceptive-activities-classroom/
This article was featured in Issue 120 – Epilepsy: High Risk for ASD Kids