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For people with Down syndrome, family members, caregivers and professionals.

Proprioceptive Input

April 2023 | Katie Frank, PhD, OTR/L - Occupational therapist, Adult Down Syndrome Center

Many individuals with Down syndrome (DS) experience difficulty with their proprioceptive system. The proprioceptive sensors in our body are responsible for providing feedback so we know where our body is in space. Individuals with DS tend to have low muscle tone, which can impact how they interpret sensory input coming in through their muscles and joints. This may be why proprioceptive input can be so effective for many individuals with DS.

When our proprioceptive sensors aren’t working like they should, someone may experience difficulty with motor coordination, meaning they appear clumsy. This could also impact a person’s ability to actually carry out a movement even though they know how to do it, this is called motor planning. They may carry out activities and have difficulty grading their movements, perhaps they do things too hard or too soft. Another feature is the person may have difficulty with postural stability so they often appear slumped over or lethargic.

Deep pressure input is supposed to have a calming and organizing effect on the central nervous system by lowering states of arousal, resulting in positive behavioral and emotional outcomes. In order to activate the proprioceptive receptors and improve a person’s proprioceptive system, the following activities can be encouraged throughout the day to get natural input into a person’s joints. These activities can be done in preparation for a transition or when you start to see a person becoming worked up.

For instance, they need to complete a series of self-care tasks in the bathroom but often require verbal prompts to initiate the activity. Provide proprioceptive input to see if it helps restart their body and prepare to complete the required task. This also goes for transitions. Do you ever need to leave the house and your loved one with DS doesn’t want to go? Try some proprioceptive input to see if it helps them transition. These activities may not be effective once a person is overwhelmed and having a tantrum or melt-down. However, they can be used after the melt-down to help calm or relax. 

  • Animal walking (like bear or crab, even crawling like a cat or dog, or hopping like a bunny)

  • Jumping up and down, maybe even on a trampoline

  • Dancing

  • Jumping jacks

  • Push-ups on the floor or against the wall

  • Bouncing on a therapy ball

  • Sitting on a sit-disc

  • Riding a bike/scooter

  • Sports like swimming, yoga, Pilates, and martial arts

  • Completing an obstacle course

  • Carrying a heavy backpack

  • Moving furniture

  • Pushing a cart/stroller/wagon

  • Rolling up in a blanket like a burrito

  • Bear hugs or being squeezed between pillows or cushions

  • Using Play-Doh or TheraPutty

  • Log rolling

  • Vibration

  • Weighted blankets or other weighted objects like pillows or lap pads

  • Sitting in a beanbag chair

  • Rocking in a rocking chair or on a glider

  • Strength training activities with a TheraBand or light weights

  • Throwing a weighted ball

  • Joint compression (see handouts on upper body opens in new window and lower body opens in new window joint compression)

  • Massage

  • Yard work like raking and shoveling

  • Housework like vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, washing windows, and wiping down the counter

  • Eating chewy or crunchy foods

  • Sucking through a straw


Additional resources are available in the Sensory section of our Resource Library. 

Find More Resources

We offer a variety of resources for people with Down syndrome, their families and caregivers and the professionals who care for and work with them. Search our collection of articles, webinars, videos, and other educational materials.

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Please note: The information on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a medical, psychiatric, mental health, or behavioral evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment plan by a qualified professional. We recommend you review the educational material with your health providers regarding the specifics of your health care needs.