Knowing where you are in relation to absolutely everything else.
Autism is based in our bodies’ uneven neurological development.
Proprioception is the sense (based on our neurology) that tells us about our bodies in relation to our physical world.
Proprioception tells our bodies we are going fast on our bicycle, when we run, or in a car.
Proprioception helps us navigate through a crowd of people or a room full of furniture, or driving our cars or bikes, through the traffic, or walking, running or moving our wheelchairs through the, hallways, rooms, navigating doorways, ramps, etc etc successfully.
Proprioception is what helps us stay upright in rough terrain or keeps us from crashing into things.
Proprioception is what tells us how hard to hit the nail with the hammer, how much force to use while trying to open the jar lid, how hard to pull the shoe strings when tying our shoes, how hard to pull or push to open the door, etc.
We use our sense of proprioception every day to inform ourselves about how to proceed in almost any situation.
If you have been given a diagnosis or dyspraxia or ataxia, your proprioception is definitely affected.
When our proprioception is “off” we can run into furniture or smack ourselves passing through doorways, fall off our bicycles (if we can ride them at all!).
Those of us with poor proprioception can stub our toes or smack our knees, elbows, or hands repeatedly when accidentally passing to near any object, including other people.
Poor proprioception means we may be the kid in gym class that can’t catch the ball and gets hit in the face every time, instead. We are the ones who are yelled at for being clumsy, for standing or following too closely, told “watch where you are going” and “hand’s off”. It is not something you “grow out of”, but I have learned that the right kind of therapy may help in some cases.
As we age, our bodies do not have as much strength or responsiveness and we are at risk of falls. To a certain extent, we can help ourselves by being aware of risks such as marking steps, removing throw rugs, providing hand rails, and other reasonable accommodations.
Proprioceptive therapy, whether self administered or through an occupational or physical therapist can be very helpful.
Do it yourself: there are loads of videos on the internet as well as charts, diagrams, pictures, etc which explain how to help your balance and how to strengthen yourself and train your body to be able to use it more safely. The thing is, it is something that needs to be done frequently. If you do a set of exercises one or 20 times, and then quit, you gain nothing. The body needs frequent input and practice for these new ways of moving to be effective.
Join a class: There are many classes these days for seniors, either online or in person, which teach yoga, Tai Chi, and other ways of using your body for best effectiveness.
Therapy: Ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist or occupational therapist who can help you learn new ways to use your body to prevent falls and injury.
There are loads of lists of proprioceptive activities for autistic children, and many of these may also be applied to adults of any age.
Join a group: you could even form your own with one or more others interested in meeting for practicing proprioceptive exercises and outings together.
Examples of proprioceptive activities : Hiking, Biking, pushing or pulling anything, playing catch or kickball, hackeysack, or dribbling or bouncing a ball against a wall and catching it repeatedly.
Standing on one foot for as long as possible ( of course use a grab bar or other support to catch yourself if need be).
Jump rope, bounce on a trampoline or an old mattress, or simply jump up and down, both feet or one foot at a time.
walk “one foot in front of the other” forward and backward. Use a line on the ground/floor to guide yourself, if you need to.
Walk between cones, then walk backward or sideways from each side, the combinations are endless. The idea is to carefully perform each of these things being aware of your body movements, your weight distribution, and your position as you perform each one.
Shovel, lift weights, do pushups on the floor or against a wall.
there are books written about this stuff! There are so many ways we can enhance our proprioception and help keep ourselves safer from accidents and falls.
Please be aware that we as a group (autistic elders) are more prone to falls and injury as we age due to our neurology. Know that you CAN do something about that!
Most of us have problems with proprioception, but we can take action to protect ourselves now that we know this.
If you don’t know how to proceed, ask for help from others.
There is no shame in reaching out for information and learning how to do something new.