Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sensory Strategies: Hidden Senses

We all recognize the five senses:  touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste (or tactile, olfactory, visual, auditory and gustatory.)  These are at the base of the developmental Pyramid of Learning.  Did you know there are two other senses?  They are vestibular and proprioception.  Those are the "hidden" senses.

from Taylor/Trott 1991, image from:

  The vestibular receptors are located in your inner ear. They give you your sense of movement, balance and gravity.  The proprioception receptors are located in your muscles, tendons and joints. They give you your sense of where your body is in space and what your body parts are doing. If you have a kid who is acting out physically, it may be to stimulate or calm these systems. Sometimes what looks like bad behavior is an involuntary reaction to what's going on with the sensory system.

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Some activities to try to instill a sense of calm to the vestibular system are linear, like driving in a car or riding a scooter.  Rhythmic movements can be calming too, such as rocking in rocking chair.  Some alerting activities for the vestibular system are ones that involve a change of direction or are rotational, like jumping on a trampoline, swinging or riding a merry-go-round. (Good luck finding one around here.)

image from:

Some activities calming to the proprioception system are heavy work: activities that involve deep pressure to muscles, joint compression, slow stretch, heavy resistance, and slowly alternating push/pull.  Put those bodies to work: remember push, pull, carry, lift.
Alerting movements include jerking movements, activities that are fast paced, with quick or unexpected changes. Climbing is alerting to the proprioception receptors.
Good alerting activities are jumping games, sports, rocking or rolling on a chair or on a ball. Using an exercise bike or a trampoline is fun, ours get bounced on while playing Wii or watching TV.  You can have the kids crash into pillows, or sandwich them between pillows or bean bags. Carrying heavy things like a weighted ball or groceries are great! Animal walks and wheel barrow walks also wake up the proprioception system.
image from:

You don't have to be flush with cash to do most of these activities.  We have only invested in a limited amount of equipment for our house. We have a play set with swings, a slide and a climbing ladder in the backyard, scooters for both kids and two mini jogging type trampolines in the house. We have rolling chairs in the office that we use for rolling and for spinning. We have lots of pillows in our house and we use them to squish and squeeze. Playgrounds are one of the best things to do, and they're free.  I also have been having the kids bring in a bag or two of the groceries when we go shopping together, carry the tote bag from the library, or their backpacks from school.
Great books about things you can do with your child to help integrate their systems doing regular things are the The Out of Sync Child and the The Out of Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder.

If you have sensory questions or hints to share, I am going to start Sensory Saturdays soon.

                SPPS Occupational Therapists
                Children's Theraplay MN


  1. Great Article Lori! You are doing wonderful things here!xoxo Molly

  2. Thank you! I am glad that this is being seen outside of my little circle! Share to all who would get some good from it.