Proprioception and autism


An except from Twirling Naked in the Streets and No-One Noticed…

So why can I not keep my feet underneath me, or apply the correct amount of pressure when lifting an object? Why do I walk into a room like an elephant in a china shop, or send the milk contain flying across the room when it is too light?  In a word—proprioception.

What is proprioception?

Proprioception refers to one’s own perceptions. It an unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation controlled by nerves within the body.

Our proprioceptive system allows us to locate our bodies in space, to be aware of where  our arms and legs are in relation to one another, as well as, where they begin and where they end. Proprioception helps us perceive the outside world, telling us whether our bodies are moving or sitting still.

This system helps us perceive the amount of force needed to complete a task, and then allows us to apply it appropriately. It helps us measure and perceive distances, allowing us to move through our world without crashing into everything around us.

Child and adults with autism often have difficulty with proprioception and very well may just be the thing that goes bump in the night…and the day, and at work, and in the streets. Poor proprioception may likely be responsible for those many bruises, skinned knees, and torn stockings that plague our days.

It can be difficult to explain how we, those with Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism, can be so clumbsy in our day to day activites, but so adept when we are intently focused.  I spent a great deal of my life dancing. I could dance with the grace of a swan, and fall down steps on my way off the stage.

I believe the difference is the intensity of our focus.  We can, for a short period of time, intensely focus on crossing a balance beam get to the other side. However, it is impossible to sustain that level of focus in all our activities 24 hours per day. I am sure that I would never fall down again, if I could focus on every step I took to the exclusion of every thing else—with no distractions and no interuptions.

While a “normal” person unconsciously perceives and is aware of each step they take, an autistic person must think about and focus consciously to perceive what comes naturally to others.

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3 thoughts on “Proprioception and autism

  1. I feel your pain. Literally. 😀 I nearly always have a bruise on my shin or thigh from walking into furniture. Put me in a ring and ask me to spar with guys who outweigh me by 50 pounds and I have lightning fast reflexes and awesome coordination. Getting around the bed to go the bathroom in the middle of the night is a whole other story. I love your theory about focus – it makes so much sense and explains a lot for me.

  2. Fantastic I don’t know how many times I have to explain proprioception to people and how it greatly effects a lot of the behaviours my daughter has. Once understood they seem to have a greater understanding of why she jumps about, pushes against things and people, hugs too hard, walks into things, takes steps one at a time and is covered jn bruises. I little knowledge goes a long way.

    • It most certainly does! I think that proprioception is one of the harder things to explain to others. It is difficult to get people to grasp being really good at one thing (like dance, gymnastics, etc.) but a complete mess at most everything else. And oh my, the bruises that I always have! My husband used to always say that people were going to think that he beat me up LOL I would bump into tables, chairs, counter corners and wind up with bruises on my legs and thighs. I continually smack my arms against the doorframes and such when trying to barrel through spaces that I simply don’t fit or misjudged how close I was to the wall…those left marks too. But I must say some of the most embarrassing things is summertime with skinned knees, as an adult!

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