Sports can be extremely beneficial to some sensory kids by giving them the proprioceptive input they need – check out this list of Top Sports for Proprioceptive Input.
We are a sports filled household. Each of our children participate in sports, both team and individual. We started them very young, trying out different sports, after being completely exhausted with them climbing over everything in the house.
Some kids have a lot of energy that needs to burn off. Others have proprioceptive needs. And some have both.
I have found my son on top of his windowsill, jumping onto his bed as a crash pad – he’s literally attempted swinging from the curtain rods (I stopped that one before anything broke) – and I found little dirty footprints going up the back of his closet where he had hung onto the bar, walked up the wall, and flipped upside down. These were just a few of his ways of seeking that proprioceptive input with what he had available.
Some of my daughters aren’t any different than my son, they are the ones you see climbing higher than anyone else on the playground, even when they are just two years old – swinging to the tops of the trees – and jumping off of platforms – they’ve run into every piece of furniture we have in our home and manage to trip themselves on their own two feet.
What are proprioceptive needs? Well with some children with sensory processing disorder, or just unique sensory needs, crave movement. In order to function properly their bodies need feedback in the form of running, jumping, climbing, pushing.
Clinically, proprioception is defined as “The ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium.”
But with some kids, especially those sensory kids, experience proprioceptive dysfunction – meaning their bodies ability to tell where it is in time and space, is a little skewed. They might stomp their feet too hard when they walk, or push to hard with the pencil when they write.
These sensory seeking children may often self regulate by running, jumping, climbing, crashing, pushing – to get that input they are seeking.
Here’s where the sports come into play.
Unbeknownst to me, for years before we knew what proprioceptive needs were, we were giving our proprioceptive sensory seeking children exactly what their bodies were craving by enrolling them in sports!
I find it no coincidence, and neither does our doctors, that our son is more focused than any other time of year, during football season – or that my daughter’s schooling started to improve when she joined the swim team.
A NOTE: If you think your child may have sensory processing disorder or proprioceptive dysfunction please consult your pediatrician or an occupational therapist to have them properly diagnosed. Some kids need specialized treatment with an occupational therapist for their sensory needs.
Many team and individual sports allow your children to get the proprioceptive input that they desire in a safe, organized environment, while gaining additional skills such as teamwork, discipline, and fortitude.
Top Sports for Proprioceptive Input
My own children each have their own sport that works really well for them – and each one is different. When choosing a sport I always recommend allowing your children to try out many different types – some team, and some individual.
This list of sports for our sensory seekers isn’t conclusive and I’d love to hear if you have any others that your child plays or participate in!
With a child that loves to run and crash, this provides so much input. During my son’s first tackle season he pulled his coach aside and told him he really only liked to play defense, no ball running, he just liked to hit! The push and pull of blocking the other players, the running, and of course that crashing into each other is amazingly stimulating for him.
Swimming is amazing because the water provides full body proprioceptive input. As the water glides over you, your legs are kicking and your arms are pulling – strengthening those all important core and large muscle groups while giving important feedback to your sensory seeker.
Gymnastics is another sport that provides near full body input – it gives you the ability to to move in all planes, even upside down, allowing additional sources of input for you child. Depending on the type of class, you may find some children do better in certain types of gymnastics. For my daughter, she loved to tumble or do floor exercises, but didn’t have much interest into learning balance beam or bars – so be sure to find a class that suits your child. Although she no longer participates in formal gymnastic lessons, to this day she takes what she learned and will flip flop around in the back yard for hours at a time, one walk-over after another!
Related to gymnastics is cheerleading – although as we found, those uniforms are VERY tight and itchy, so if you have a tactile avoider you may want to avoid that sport!
Dance also gives you the opportunity to move in all planes and develops core strength. The added bonus here is the music – many children love to dance because not only do they get the sensory input from the movement but also from hearing the music.
Horse Back Riding
This is a sport that we have not officially participated in, however it is on the lis for sure! Many children (and adults) find the animals very soothing to work with and as your body moves with the movement of the horse you are getting incredible feedback – not to mention the core strength that is developed from keeping balance.
Martial Arts gives similar input as dance – allowing your child to control and explore their body, one movement at a time – with a focus on discipline. Martial Arts movements are very precise and allow for the use of balance and crossing the midline.
Talk about full body input – wrestling literally uses the entire body to win over the challenger – input is gained from the floor, movement in all directions, and the input as your resist your partner.
Do you watch American Ninja Warrior? If so, then you know what parkour is – in fact, my children have been begging to set up a course in our backyard!! This activity is becoming a huge trend with obstacle races popping up all over the county. Parkour involves, running, jumping, climbing, vaulting, swinging, and more – all using your body to propel yourself forward – it is, quite literally, the sensory seekers dream come true.