Proprioceptive Dysfunction

Learn how to identify proprioceptive dysfunction, a sensory processing disorder symptom that may also occur in children with signs of autism or ADHD Symptoms. It refers to a body’s inability to properly process sensory input related to proprioception. The sense of proprioception differs from the other senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch by involving more internal sensory perception by which we receive the pain and movement of the internal organs.

Some sensory toys that are often used in the treatment of SPD with relation to the proprioceptive sense include weighted blankets, vests, heavy lifting, trampolines, brushing, and sit arounds to help children stay seated.

Symptoms and Signs

Signs you may see as a result of proprioceptive dysfunction

Sensory Seeking Behavior:

• Loves to engage in jumping on a trampoline, wrestling and crashing activities
• Walks with heavy feet that sounds like stomping
• Kicks floor or chair while sitting
• Prefers tight clothing
• Likes squishing activities
• Bites or sucks on fingers
• Likes bear hugs
• May grind teeth
• May hit, bump, or push other children
• Likes to chew on pens, straws or shirt

Difficulty with “Grading of Movement”:

• Misinterprets how much to flex or extend muscles when doing tasks (i.e. putting arms into sleeves or climbing
• May write too light or dark on paper due to problems regulating pressure
• Frequently breaks toys and objects
• Miscalculates weight of objects
• Engages in activities with too much force (i.e. slamming doors, setting down objects to hard)
• May unintentionally hurt animals due to playing with too much force

Treatments for Proprioceptive Dysfunction

child bending over displaying symptoms of proprioceptive dysfunction

Children faced with these challenges may feel insecure and engage in negative behavior as a result. Utilizing sensory processing disorder treatment options, such as seeking help from an occupational (OT) or physical therapist can greatly help the symptoms involved with proprioceptive dysfunction.

Treatment with an OT generally includes the development of a sensory diet that may include using some of the sensory toys listed above and the implementation of techniques, such as the wilbarger brushing protocol. This is a proprioceptive massage technique that helps reorganize the nervous system.

Another option to consider would be applied behavior analysis in the form of discrete trial training or structured play to provide immediate positive reinforcement for behaviors that will help to eliminate symptoms.

I have seen a world of difference in children that were diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder or other developmental disorder displaying proprioceptive dysfunction , that engaged in occupational therapy. One particular therapy that really helps is through a program called integrative listening systems. This can treat anything related to a concern with the sensory system.

Their symptoms were very similar to the ones described above, but had a diagnosis of autism. After learning how to better coordinate their body and respond appropriately to sensory stimuli, the increase in self esteem alone was enough reason.

These children did not have a diagnosed sensory disorder, but did display all of the symptoms. Because the condition is often unable to be easily diagnosed it is likely that they may have been suffering from the disorder without anyone’s knowledge.

Some children with difficulties regarding proprioceptive stimuli, may also show symptoms of oral defensiveness, an auditory processing disorder, or tactile defensiveness. However, it is important to note that just because your child may have some of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that he or she has proprioceptive dysfunction or other sensory disorder. Sometimes it is very easy to classify ourselves or our loved ones into different categories of disorders.

So, just because your child frequently breaks toys, likes to jump on trampolines, and often engages in activities with too much force does not mean a sensory disorder is present. Your average boy can often be described in this manner without the other complications of the disorder.


1. Wikipedia Encyclopedia. Proprioception. 1-16-10.

2. Sensory Processing Disorders. Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist. 1-16-10.

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