Body Awareness in Children
Body scheme is the internal awareness of where body parts are in relation to each other. Body schema depends upon sensations received through activities involving the muscles, joints, skin and soft tissue. Every time a child moves, plays with a toy, tenses his muscles, experiments with gravity or is touched they are enhancing awareness and skills.
Children who have difficulty with body awareness/body scheme have problems that show up in movement and activity. Children with these schema problems have trouble with coordination which spills over into an inability or reluctance to play activities and sports with peers. They may not be able to figure out how to climb on the monkeys bars or because of poor feedback from their body, may be fearful of engaging in many movement activities.
Resent research show us that many children and adults have issues with body awareness/body schema. In the book, “The Reason I Jump,” author Naoki Higashida, describes a 13 year old Autistic boy's poor body perceptions this way:
“In my gym class, the teacher tells me to do things like, 'Stretch your arms!' and 'Bend at the knees!' But I don’t always know what my arms and legs are up to, not exactly. For me, I have no clear sensation of where my arms and legs are attached, or how to make them do what I’m telling them to do. It’s as if my limbs are a mermaid’s rubbery tail. I think the reason why some kids with autism try to get hold of an object by 'borrowing' someone else’s hand is that they can’t tell how far they need to extend their own arms to reach the object. They’re not too sure how to actually grab the object either, because we have problems perceiving and gauging distances. By constant practice, however, we should be able to overcome this difficulty. That said, I still can’t even tell when I’ve stepped on someone’s foot or jostled someone out of my way."
Many children with autism are particularly challenged by poor body awareness/body schema due to poor connectivity in the motor area of the brain.
Common Signs of Body Awareness Problems
All children refine their body awareness as they mature. The child with body awareness challenges may exhibit many of the following manifestations:
Seem to move awkwardly or stiffly?
May seem to be physically weaker than other children?
Use too little or excessive force on things (for example, has trouble attaching clothing snaps, pop beads, and Legos, writes way too light or too dark with a pencil, breaks toys often)?
Push, hit, bite, or bang into other children although he isn't an aggressive child?
Avoid – or crave – jumping, crashing, pushing, pulling, bouncing, and hanging?
Chew on clothing or objects more than other children do?
Always look at what he is doing (for example, he watches his feet when walking or running)?
Unable to do anything with eyes closed?
Here are a few more signs that may signify poor body awareness in children:
Prefer to be in small rooms as opposed to wide open spaces. They may also prefer confined spaces, such as forts, closets or being under blankets. Children with poor body awareness feel more secure in small spaces rather than open areas because they have a better idea of where they are in space.
Do not like to be in the dark or do not like to close their eyes. In order to make up for the fact that he or she has poor body awareness, children may rely on what they see in order to know where they are. If he or she is in a dark room, they may not understand where they are in that defined space. Use of weighted blankets or animals may give the feedback that the child’s body is missing.
Wet the bed at night due to lack of body feedback.
Like big bear hugs. Due to their decreased processing of proprioceptive (Muscle and joint) information, children may prefer to be squeezed tightly because it gives a lot of input to their joints and muscles.
Have difficulty mimicking movements, such as hand games or licking lips. When someone else shows them something they want the child to imitate, a child with poor body awareness may not understand how to move their body in the same way because they have a harder time understanding where their body parts are and how much to move them.
Has a hard time learning new gross motor activities, such as jumping jacks. Gross motor activities rely heavily on the input children get to their muscles and joints when jumping on the ground or climbing. Since children with poor body awareness have a difficult time processing that feeling to their body, learning these activities are more difficult for them. As a result, these children may need to look in the mirror to learn new gross motor tasks. This is because children have to see what they are doing in order to learn how to manipulate their body in that manner. (This is why modeling is critical)
They may seem clumsy. Children who trip over objects or their own feet do so because they don’t know where their body parts are.
How to Enhance Body Awareness
The key to helping children, teens and adults in developing their internal maps and developing or enhancing self awareness is to engage DAILY in activities that fire the muscles and enhance the brain/ body connection. Over time and with daily repetition, the signals strengthen and awareness is increased.
Many forms of yoga, beginning with grounding practices, are key to firing the brain-body kinesthetic pathways. The proprioceptive (muscle/joint) and deep touch pathways enhance the body awareness necessary for accurate perception of the body and all of its parts fostering successful engagement in all of the activities of life.
Cheatum and Hammond : “Physical Activities for Improving Learning and Behavior”
North Shore Occupational Therapy: Body awareness