I walk in and catch him standing on the loveseat in his classroom. He is actually going to jump from there to the ground. I stop him by yelling, “Get down from there!” He yells back, “I’m sorry, mommy!” He’s not really sorry. This is his new standard gut reaction. He’ll do it again as soon as my back is turned because it is part of his thrill seeker act.
Before he was diagnosed and before I’d ever heard of proprioception, I’d hear him running from one end of his “classroom” to the other, crashing into the walls on either side of the room, while yelling and laughing. He’d throw himself on the floor – intentionally for the feeling it gave him. I remember thinking how he was just a little boy full of energy. I think back on that now and cringe at how ignorant I was.
You see, we all know about sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch but we don’t think about how our brains process our body’s movement and position. Where is my right hand? Where are my feet in relation to the floor? It’s automatic, right? Not so, for the little guy. This is part of the sensory processing disorder that is common for children with autism and for other children who do not have the autism diagnosis.
With proprioception, our muscles, joints, ligaments, and connective tissues give our brain information about where our body is moving in space. The information my son receives is somehow not correct or absent much of the time. He does these crazy thrill-seeking activities to try and correct what is going wrong. He will climb chairs and go to the top of jungle gyms, run, jump and spin. All things that make me super nervous as a mom.
There are methods that are used to help a child calm and organize himself. Things that should help decrease these “sensory-seeking” behaviors. Deep pressure that can come from bear hugs and squeezes and wrapping my son tightly in a towel are a couple of the things I’ll do to calm him. Weighting him down with heavy blankets or having him jump on a trampoline. Even with these activities and lots of running and jumping, he still retains the desire to climb, jump and crash.
I’ve caught him jumping all around my bed in a circle. I seen him jump from his grandparents’ bed to a reclining chair in their bedroom when he thought we were all out in the kitchen! I have to remind myself that he is not just a naughty monkey but trying to actually make sense of his world.
Other times, I see him walk across the very even, very low carpet or wood floor and he will trip over some invisible obstacle and go straight down to the floor. This happens once to twice daily, at a minimum. It’s like a high wire act – only his high wire is the floor. He always just briefly yells out and then gets up and goes about his business. Sometimes I want to laugh just because it looks so comical but I feel so bad for him that I hold it in. He has not hurt himself from these tripping incidents (knock on wood) but he does try to make them into a big deal so I ignore to avoid escalation.
At least three to five times a day he will get out of our SUV in slow motion. He will dawdle, hesitate and play with the lock on the door rather than face getting out of that vehicle. It’s the retractable step on our SUV. It opens up when the car door is opened. It sits halfway between the threshold for the door and the ground. My son almost always misjudges the distance between the car and the stair and the stair and the ground and comes tumbling out of the vehicle. Usually, he can make it without falling but it is a slow process.
Of course to compound the problem, I’m usually in a hurry. Trying to hurry him to get to school, to therapy, inside the house in the rain, or I simply have lost patience for the ritual on any given day. When I do give up on waiting for him to process the information he needs to judge the distance and get out of the SUV, I usually just physically pick him up and set him down on the ground. This is not going to work much longer. My son is getting taller every day. Soon he will be taller than I am and he will have to learn to cope somehow to get out of the vehicle without mom to carry him.
His abilities are still somewhat of a mystery to me. He attends a gym class every Monday. Last week, he threw a baseball 10 times further than the other kids – in the right direction! His sensory issues are simply a work in progress.
We’ll keep working and hoping. It would be nice for him to play sports. It would be even better if he did not have to jump off the couch to find the floor. Someday, we’ll get there without falling.