Using Deep Pressure Stimulation to Improve Sensory Processing

Using Deep Pressure Stimulation to Improve Sensory Processing

In addition to vestibular activities like swinging and rocking, the deep pressure stimulation provided by proprioceptive sensory integration activities is essential to help all children grow and develop. Fortunately, there are some easy, fun at home activities that you can do to help your child with autism get much-needed deep pressure stimulation.

Proprioceptive Sensory Integration Activities

All developing children need deep pressure stimulation, which is why they like to be held or wrapped tightly in blankets, and why they love to jump and climb. These kinds of activities wake up their proprioception, which is the body’s sense of itself in space, provided by feedback from the large muscle groups, skeletal system, and joints and ligaments. Kids who have autism often have underdeveloped proprioception, and they crave this kind of stimulation even more.

Here are a few things you can do at home to strengthen your child’s proprioceptive feedback:

  • Passive Activities. There are plenty of ways for your child to receive deep pressure stimulation while at school, or while at home watching TV or sitting. Weighted blankets, lap pads, and pressure vests all provide proprioceptive feedback that calms overstimulated children and energizes under stimulated children. Other good passive activities include sitting in a bean bag chair, wrapping up tightly in a blanket, and massage.
  • Swimming. Any kind of aquatic therapy provides deep pressure stimulation, since the force exerted on your child’s body when moving through water is far greater than the force exerted by air.
  • Heavy Work. Sometimes parents get nervous when their occupational therapist starts talking about heavy work, but don’t worry. This just means any activity that is weight-bearing. Great examples include household chores, such as carrying groceries in, helping unload the dishwasher, and raking leaves, as well as play activities, such as digging in a sandbox, rolling out Play Dough, and playing hopscotch. All of these activities help children really feel their muscles and joints. Check out our heavy work blog for a full list of additional activities.
  • Yoga. Stretching and doing yoga poses could also be considered a type of heavy work. Start slow with a couple of fun poses before building up to more difficult moves. A good way to start is to make a game of it while watching TV, listening to music, or doing some other passive activity. For example, while watching a favorite show, you could challenge your kid to hold a plank position, resting on elbows and toes, through an entire commercial. Reward your child with extra screen time or a favorite food or activity for holding the pose.

Since proprioceptive activities, whether passive or active, involve weight and pressure, it’s important to start slow and build up your child’s endurance to reduce the chance of injury. Always make sure that the chore or other activity is age-appropriate and scaled to your child’s size and ability—if you are asking your child to help you unload the dishwasher, for instance, toddlers might be able to put away the silverware, while a ten-year-old could help with heavier plates and bowls.

Learn some good ways to use at home exercises to improve your child’s oral motor skills in the final installment in this series.