Autism in Motion

We all have proprioceptive struggles

Autism is being understood more and more as a neurological difference that causes our sensory input to give us different information than the way neurotypical individuals process such input. We are “wired differently” in our neurology from all of our senses, and each of us is different.

I went looking for more information about the way we move as compared to neurotypical individuals. Much has been made recently of “micro movements” that seem to be common in autistic individuals, and how these movements might interfere with NT intuitive interpretation of social interaction.
Instinctive rejection of differing neurology is done rapidly and unconsciously by others interacting with autistic individuals.
Much comment has been made regarding how this could possibly be the basis for autistic social struggles.

I have been reading about involuntary movements and also about autistic “gait”.

I wrote about this a bit in the early days of the blog. I had been surprised to discover just how odd my gait must appear to others.

Gait is being analyzed and understood today through the use of diagnostic tools unimaginable only a few years ago.

I am attaching a link to an older article that discusses gait analysis and diagnostic imaging of individuals with various neurological diagnoses.

Most fascinating to me was the included video showing these gait differences clearly. ( thank goodness it was a clear and slow moving image that I could actually process! )

I was astounded to see my own gait reflected in the image for autism in the video. I have always been clumsy and awkward and my mother constantly criticized my way of walking, forcing me to crawl on the floor moving my head from side to side (remember the “patterning” theory of development in the 1960s?) and walk for hours trying impossibly to balance a book on top of my head.
She hated my my posture, and my gait, even going so far as to take me to a podiatrist, wanting him to fix my funny way of walking.
I recognized even at the time that he thought she was causing my self conscious and timid, awkward movement to be worse through her constant criticism.
He ended up telling her I had an extra bone in my ankle and that I could not help the way I moved.

She left me alone after that, what a relief!

I don’t believe for a minute I have any extra bones, I was so grateful to him for helping to free me of the continual harassment and criticism.

I digress.

When staying overnight with a sick friend at a hospital for a couple of days just a few years ago, I had to continually walk down a hallway which had a huge plate glass window at the end of it. When it was dark outside, this acted as a mirror to reflect my image as I walked toward it down that long hallway.
I could not help but observe my gait and was amazed to see how very odd it was! I tend to plant one leg and to swing the other leg around it in a sort of semi circle. One leg (my left) is almost straight in flight, moving forward without almost any deviation, and I weave my right leg around this one removing it from almost directly behind the left and swinging it in a sort of arc, placing it in front of the left, Sort of a weaving motion.

I was stunned. No wonder people look at me when I walk!!! How odd! I knew my gait was “off” but I had not realized how it looked to others. WOW.

That recognition was a couple of years ago.
Today I was searching online for articles on proprioception and gait, as well as micro motor motions.

I found this article from a few years ago.

Please watch it and look at the part where the motion of the autistic individual is shown.
Is there really a recognizable autistic gait?
That autistic individual portrays the exact same gait that I recognized in myself just a few years ago.
How interesting!
Are you aware of your gait?

What does it look like?

I am going to continue to search for more information about autism and our bodies in motion.


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.

autism and proprioception

You are Here X

One thing we discussed as I finally got my official diagnosis was my lack

of coordination. I tend to cut corners short and run my shoulder or knee into

the wall or the furniture. I am constantly hitting my toes against chair legs or

failing to step high enough when going up steps. I can trip over air! I often put out a hand as I walk along a hall, always hold onto the stair rail, touch things as I pass them to help myself be aware of how far away I am from them.

I mentioned lack of depth perception making it difficult for me to judge the

speed of anything coming my way… a thrown item will hit me in the face,

while driving I tend to overcompensate in allowing the space between me and oncoming

traffic when pulling out from parking or a stop sign.

The doctor said “that is not a problem with depth perception, that is a problem of proprioception”.

I had heard the term before. The Dr explained that almost every person he diagnosed with autism had struggles with proprioception. He thinks these struggles are directly linked to autism. ( that is not part of the DSM V, but it has been something that Dr has used to help when he looked for autism in persons he worked with) .

I decided to look more closely. Proprioception is the word used to describe our sense
of where we are in time and space. Proprioception uses our whole body’s nervous system to determine how to use our bodies, tell if we are upright, feel movement and know what movement we ourselves are performing… it is the sense that helps us keep our balance, that helps us walk, be seated, to catch and throw a ball, and to do complex movements of our fingers and hands.

Proprioception tells us how much pressure to use when handling something delicate or how much force to use to close the back door or how hard to hit with the hammer while driving a nail.
Proprioception is used when sitting in my chair typing on my keyboard… am I upright? Is my seat firmly in place on the chair? How hard must I press the keys to produce the words I am seeing in front of me? I can feel that my feet are apart a few inches and flat on the floor. If I want to rise, I use proprioception to judge how much strength I must use to push myself away from the desk, to lift myself into standing upright postion, and to know when I have done these things. Some call proprioception the 6th sense.

Problems with proprioception can be the reason some of us struggle with issues of “personal space”, either our own or in perceiving the space of others.

We use our other senses to create proprioception within us. Removing vision, for example, makes it more difficult to sense motion around us and relate to the motion of other entities. It makes it more difficult to judge where we are- our position in space relating to everything else.
The same for the sense of touch. Do we know we have our feet on the floor, the fingers on the keyboard, or our seats firmly in the chair if we can’t feel them? Proprioception keeps us oriented in the world. We use it in many ways every day.

My reported problems with balance and coordination are directly related to the fact that the input I receive is not constant, or is not processed correctly, making it difficult for me to keep my balance when doing anything while in motion.

I think it also is responsible for my sense of fear or being overwhelmed in wide open spaces, or when looking down on open spaces… say, from a window in a multiple storied building. The fear that I will fall overcomes me and I am frozen to the spot.

I could not get out of the car in the parking lot when we visited the Grand Canyon years ago. I was filled with terror and fear of falling, seeing the huge open and deep spaces outside the windows. I was miserable with fear and ridiculed for that!

I get motion sickness easily and frequently.

I learned to ride a bike at age 10 and was terrible at it, I gave it up by the time I was 12 due to fear of falling off, which I did on a regular basis. No fun in it for me, even though it made my trip to the candy shop much quicker.

I fell off my horses frequently.

I am overcautious and hypervigilant as a driver or a passenger, safe, but because I know I must compensate for my inability to judge space and speed with much accuracy. Thank goodness for the speed regulating devices that one can ‘set’ on today’s cars.

One of my family nicknames was “grace” because there was not a graceful bone in my body.

Do you struggle with issues surrounding proprioception? If you are autistic, you probably have experienced these issues or ones like it.

Again, to clarify: problems with proprioception are not listed in the DSM V as being diagnostic of autism, and many people who are not autistic may also have problems with proprioception. There are therapies available which may help some proprioception issues. Look up ” sensory integration” to learn more.