Heavy work is any type of activity that pushes or pulls against the body. Heavy work activities can help kids with sensory processing issues feel centered. Heavy work engages a sense called proprioception, or body awareness.
Who can benefit from heavy work activities?
Everyone! Everyone needs heavy work activities to some extent. It’s mostly exercise and getting the body moving, which all of us need. However, heavy work is of particular benefit for individuals with sensory processing issues for several reasons, such as:
It provides proprioceptive input to the muscles & joints. This can be very calming, organizing, and regulating, decreasing stress and anxiety.
Children with sensory processing issues often don’t know where they are in time and space. It’s why they might move a lot or swing or crash into things – they’re trying to get grounded. Heavy work can help give them that grounding and increase body awareness.
It can help decrease the need to chew. Many individuals with sensory processing needs tend to chew as a way to self-regulate. It is a very simple yet effective calming strategy, and there are many chew tools available specifically to meet this need. However, some individuals have a very overwhelming, aggressive, and destructive need to chew that can affect their quality of life. Oftentimes chewing is the most extreme when there isn’t a sensory diet / other calming mechanisms in place, so they default to chewing instead. When the whole body is getting the right amount of proprioceptive input (through heavy work for instance) throughout the day, the need to chew typically decreases.
Heavy work / proprioceptive input can increase focus and attention. With the right sensory input, children are able to sit still longer because they feel grounded and know where they are.
Heavy work activities have a residual effect. Think about your arms feel after you’ve carried something heavy for a while – even after you’ve let go, your arms still feel the weight, and you’re more aware of your arms and muscles. For this reason, if a person gets the right amount of proprioceptive input throughout the day, it can help prevent sensory overload altogether and keep them focused and calm.
• Although it’s rare, occasionally heavy work activities may increase one’s the activity level instead of having a calming effect. It’s not for everyone, so watch the child’s reactions closely and of course, consult with your OT.
If you have any questions call our office at: 586-323-2957
-Stephanie Earl, COTA