Improving Proprioception for Kids With Disabilities

Imagine being prone to falling when walking on uneven surfaces, not understanding your own strength when being physically active, or having balance issues when playing. This is what life is like for kids who have certain developmental and physical conditions.

Collectively, these are called proprioception disorders. Proprioception refers to our muscles’ ability to sense movement, action and location.1 For example, it’s what allows us to move our arms and legs without needing to think about every little aspect of those motions every second we’re doing them. Proprioception disorders can occur with children who have autism, multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathy, orthopedic issues, and other conditions.

Certain types of physical activities, such as the push-pull movement while riding Pumper Car® vehicles can improve proprioceptive feedback, according to Katie Waterstreet, an adapted physical education specialist for the Forest Grove School District in Oregon. She says, “Students with sensory needs often times don’t where their bodies are in space. So when they do deep pressure exercise such as the push-pull movement with the Pumper Car, that motion sends a [neurological] message and helps regulate the child’s body and brain.”

A re-set for bodies and brains

After using the Pumper Car vehicle, students are able to return to the classroom and are ready to learn because they’ve reset their brains. “One of the main reasons for this goes back to the therapeutic push-pull, full body movement that provides proprioceptive feedback to their muscles. It can be relaxing for my students,” says Waterstreet. Also, these devices have given her more opportunities for her students to move their bodies and work on cardiovascular health and muscle development. The bonus, she says, is that “These vehicles promote inclusion for those with and without disabilities to play with each other.”

Waterstreet notes that Pumper Car vehicles stretch a child’s body out with the movement of a his or her legs and arms. Waterstreet adds, “Think of this action like a rubber band. As they move more, it [the body] relaxes. They’re working the legs, arms, core muscles, improving their flexibility and range of motion.” She says this type of exercise helps to regulate bodies and brains, which contributes to improved proprioception.

Beyond proprioceptional benefits

Adapted physical education teachers, including Waterstreet, emphasize that the level and type of exercise that Pumper Car vehicles provide can benefit kids of all abilities. A physical activity like this encourages and inspires kids to move—they don’t realize they’re exercising because it’s just fun play to them. Waterstreet says, “It’s a great way to get all kids moving and reset their brains—including their proprioceptive abilities—to go back to class and learn.”

1 WebMD Editorial Contributors, medically reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD. “What is Proprioception.” Nov. 27, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/brain/what-is-proprioception

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