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Ten ideas for increasing proprioceptive input

My internal senses (proprioception, vestibular, interoception) don’t get enough of the right stimulation.

Proprioception means knowing where your body parts are in space. It is very “organising” for your brain. It helps make sense of all the other sensory inputs you’re getting. If you don’t get enough, a lot of background anxiety can build up throughout the day.

As part of my autism diagnosis, I found out that I do not get enough proprioceptive input. I know this is true because:

  • Applying pressure to my body or joints is extremely calming

  • I frequently break things because I can’t tell how much pressure I’m applying (e.g. when washing up glasses)

  • I am quite clumsy, and usually have bruises from bumping into things

  • My hand gets tired easily from writing because I squeeze too hard

  • Terrible hand-eye coordination

  • I constantly feel very disconnected from my body, and get confused about whose limbs are mine if sitting with someone

So, what to do? To increase proprioceptive input, you can apply extra weight or pressure to your body, especially your joints. That gives extra signals to your brain about what’s going on.

Here are ten things I’ve experimented with, the impact, and what I’m going to do with them in future. I have no affiliation to anything linked below, it’s just what I use.

Experiment 1: A weighted lap pad

What is it? A square pad filled with beads that weigh it down. Like this one. The idea is to put it on your lap while seated e.g. at work, to give some extra input.

What happened? I sat with it while watching TV or working, but I wriggle a lot and sit in weird positions so it didn’t really help. It’s still in the cupboard, but I’m not sure if I’ll use it again.

Experiment 2: Adding weights to my rucksack

What is it? I get very anxious while out and about, so experimented with adding a 3kg dumbbell to my rucksack and carrying that on my back.

What happened? This has helped me feel slightly more grounded while out and about, so I still do this if my bag is quite empty.

Experiment 3: Weighted blankets

What is it? A blanket filled with beads to weigh it down. This gives a bit of extra input over your whole body when lying or sleeping under it. I have a blanket like this one. They should be around 5–10% of your body weight in order to be both safe and comfortable.

What happened? I use mine to sleep under. It hugely improved my sleep quality straight away. I feel the difference when I go away and sleep without it, so might start taking it with me when I can. Unfortunately, they are (necessarily) quite heavy to transport!

Experiment 4: Being squished (requires help)

What is it? Being cuddled quite forcefully, someone laying on top of me, or putting me into (gentle) wrestling holds. If alone, I can cross my arms in front of me and press down hard on opposite shoulders.

What happened? This immediately calms me down. If I could get my day-to-day life done whilst also being constantly squished, I would. The solo shoulder-pressing thing can have a really sudden impact on my anxiety levels too, especially at the end of a stressful day.

Experiment 5: Joint compressions (requires help)

What is it? Applying rapid extra pressure to joints one at a time. Here is a video that explains it properly. I saw it recommended as a parenting technique to quickly calm down an autistic child if they are having a meltdown.

What happened? My friend tried this out on me and I immediately melted. It makes my joints feel all floppy. We did it while at a pub, and it just took away a whole chunk of my anxiety straight away. I’ve taught a few people to do it now, so when out and about there are folks I can go up to, present a wrist/elbow, and get joint compressions to calm me down. Sure, it looks weird. But it is extremely worth it.

Experiment 6: Exercising with weights

What is it? This one wasn’t really new, I do strength workouts at home anyway. But using it to calm down was novel. When I want to get some extra input, I will hold dumbbells and do exercises that apply a lot of downward pressure. Like chest presses, or holding heavy weights by my side for lunges. For strength workouts, I use Sydney Cummings’ YouTube channel. She’s super positive, sensible about health and fitness, and very down to earth.

What happened? This is a nice one for waking my body up in the morning. A couple of gentle — but heavy — exercises seem to help orientate my brain. It also helps a lot if I’m feeling agitated in the middle of a workday.

Experiment 7: Yoga

What is it? I’m sure you know what yoga is… but in this context, it can be a good way to give some intense input to joints. I like Sydney Cummings’ yoga or stretch videos because it’s just the movement, without the woo.

What happened? When I remember to do it (hardly ever) this is one of the only things I can do that helps me feel connected to my limbs. Especially when doing a very intense stretch and having to pay attention to breathing into it.

Experiment 8: Sensory compression clothing

What is it? Clothing that provides constant pressure throughout the day, and can be worn under other clothes. I got mine here. They don’t have much for adults (I am very short, so kids’ stuff is fine…) If anyone knows a better adult source, tell me and I’ll link it. I use long-sleeved tops and a sleeveless tube top from that site, plus standard compression running tights.

What happened? This has been a total game-changer. It reduces my sense of being disconnected from my body. And helps me feel much calmer when out and about.

Experiment 9: Fidgeting with a stretchy band

What is it? Anything stretchy to fidget with, that you can pull and gives you a bit of resistance. I have these stretchy fidget toys, and a much firmer band like this. You can also put a stretchy resistance band around your desk or table to kick against while seated.

What happened? The stretchy fidget toys are now my go-to for fidgeting in meetings. They help me concentrate. The firmer one gives a good bit of calming resistance when I need it, but I do that far less often. I can’t get the angles to work with a band around my desk, but I’ve heard it’s helpful for others.

Experiment 10: Foam roller

What is it? A foam cylinder that you can roll over like this one. I think they’re mostly intended to help with recovery after working out. Sydney Cummings has some foam roller videos like this one if you want ideas.

What happened? I found this enjoyable, but not calming, as it takes quite a lot of concentration for me to not fall off or let it roll away. So I do it because it feels nice (which is still a good reason!) but not because of my proprioceptive issues.

Lauren x


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