Anna wrote: My question is regarding proprioceptive dysfunction.  Can a child with
sensory processing dysfunction benefit from deep pressure massages like
Reflexiology? What about Aromatherapy?

Before I answer, let me give a little education regarding proprioception and proprioceptive dysfunction.

What is Proprioception? Proprioception refers to the internal and automatic awareness of where our bodies are in space and how we are moving.  Receptors in our muscles, tendons and joints send this information to the brain where it is integrated and forms the basis for body awareness, schema and organized movement

What does Proprioceptive Dysfunction look like: If a child is underresponsive to proprioceptive input they may:

  • Be a sensory seeker: on the move, crashing into things, bouncing, bumping, jumping, risk taker, thrill seeker
  • Have a poor body schema: invade others space, bump into others accidentally, demonstrate poor grading of movement, use too much force, break toys inadvertently
  • Demonstrate poor motor planning (dyspraxia):  have difficulty  learning motor skills, motor skills may be poorly coordinated, have difficulty drawing, writing, dressing, hopping, skipping, jumping rope, riding a bike, etc.

What do you do? In therapy we typically start with activities that provide intensive proprioceptive and deep touch pressure input in an effort to reach a threshold within the child’s brain where the input is being perceived.  The adaptive motor responses a child makes sets up a feedback loop so that learning occurs.  We help parents set up sensory diets at home to meet their child’s proprioceptive needs.

So, what about reflexology and aromatherapy?
While some parents may be interested in pursuing alternative therapies for their child(ren), these two are unlikely to address proprioceptive needs, because activation of proprioceptors requires movement and weight bearing.  We do support parents is exploring alternative therapies, if they are interested, as these therapies can have a place in supporting a child whose developmental course is stressed by sensory integration dysfunction.  During our summer program Staying Cool, for children with anxiety we have made comfort pillows, scented with essential oils selected by the children.  One child we worked with was very sensitive to odors, with offending odors making him sick to his stomach.  Our short term solution was a scented bandana that he wore around his neck and could smell to over ride any offending odors.