Body awareness: Why is it so important?

Poor Body Awareness = Poor Motor Planning =Poor Gross & Fine Motor Skills

Body awareness is about understanding where our bodies are in space, as well as where and how we move them.
It is the internal awareness sense of the body, and its function is to make our body aware about, where it is, in relation to the environment.Body awareness is developed through proprioception sense and kinaesthesia. 
Moreover, it can be explained as knowledge of the boundaries of the body and its movements within space.For instance, it lets us know where is our right hand or left leg and what is the relationship between the two.
This develops since 9th -12th months in an embryo and completely develop by the time child is 5 years. Infants learn about their bodies and its relationship to surrounding on them during the normal course of development. Exploring, and manipulating objects is a process of developing body scheme. As they grow they learn about distances and sizes.

How does body awareness act on our body?

Our brain has body “maps” which carry information about every body part and its relationship to each other.

These maps support person to realise how his own body feels like when vision is blocked. Body awareness tells about the "doing sense" of the body without looking at different body parts. For example, scratching our back when it itches or wiping face when it has dirt on it. There are so many actions which are taken as for granted by us however our brain and body works phenomenally to process sensory information from the brain to various sensory systems. 

In above face wiping example, the brain sends messages to elbow so that specific muscles can contract and relax to bend elbow joint and hand can go up to face to clean the dirt. Related hand muscles also contract and relax.

We are able to put the lid on water bottle or pen without looking at it, control tap faucet while talking to someone, are some of the examples of body's "doing sense" while we are busy focusing on primary tasks. 

Our body's ability to change its posture unconsciously, when muscles of the particular group are fatigued in one position is a strong example body awareness.This process happens automatically while are sleeping or awake. 
Our proprioception receptors update these body “maps” (precepts) which helps the
brain in sending messages to needed body part for further actions. 

In children with the poor body awareness, the relationship between body actions and these “maps” do not work well. Due to poor functioning of body percept, the brain is not able to plan actions leading to poor motor planning. This is the reason children with Dyspraxia are disorganised, forgetful and clumsy. Their brain is not able to do motor planning causing them not being able to judge speed, weight rate, the direction of any object or task. 

Moreover, these maps also contain memories related to environment such as gravity. For example, while sitting on swing we know our upper body is on swing however legs are swinging. 

Another common example is while swimming whether our body is in deep or shallow water. In both the situations, body maps help the brain to plan the movements according to the state of the body.

Signs and Symptoms: 

1) Might bump into other people or stand in very close proximity to other people when interacting with them.

2) May have organisational difficulties in the classroom as well as home.

3) The concept of right and left, up-down, under-over, in-out is confusing for children to understand and learn therefore following directions is a difficult task.

4) For children with poor body awareness subjects like mathematics, physics are difficult to understand. Geometry, shapes, volumes, calculations are hard to understand.

5) Copying from the blackboard is a struggle for them due to midline crossing difficulties.

6) There may be difficulty while playing football or cricket. Judging distance and speed of ball can be an issue.

7) Body Awareness also interferes with learning since child’s brain is not able to do motor planning resulting in poor control over tasks. e.g. self-care. Usually, these children also have laterality and coordination difficulties. They can be ambidextrous.

Tips for improving Body Awareness

1) Visual Feedback: Learning new task is challenging for them, especially, gross motor skills such as jumping jacks, synchronised opposite sideways or same side jumping, or skipping. Most of the gross motor tasks require proprioceptive input, received through muscle and joint receptors, however, due to poor proprioceptive sensory processing, the child faces  difficulties in performing new dance steps, actions or exercises. These children should be given regular visual feedback through a mirror which can support them seeing what they are doing in order to learn and manipulate their body in the correct manner.Moreover, repetition of novel tasks is important.

2) Heavy Work Activites (Proprioceptive Input): Pushing and pulling heavy objects such as barrels, cart, large bean bags, pile of chairs or pushing another child on swing will provide muscles and joint receptors information about position of body parts (leg, arms, head and trunk) in space and in relationship with other objects.These activities provide deep pressure to muscles, joints, ligaments and key points (shoulder, pelvis and hips) to the tactile defensive child.Moreover, living movement break will support the child to concentrate better in studies such as sending him to the office to handover papers or asking him to distribute assignments in the classroom.

Hippotherapy: This therapy is used under the supervision of an occupational therapist. This process involves riding a horse with simultaneous involvement of a variety of therapeutic activities. Riding a horse provides various kinds of sensory information including, tactile, visual, proprioceptive and vestibular.Maintaining positions, staying alerted while riding, facilitates postural control and balance. This therapy helps in developing balance, core body strength (changing different positions, supine, prone, quadruped), as well as midline crossing, weight shifting and upper and lower body control. Resource

4) Obstacle courses: Make obstacle courses and ask the child to complete them in different positions (supine, prone, kneeling) while sitting on a scooter board.Engaging children into creating obstacle courses will support Dyspraxic children in developing ideation, planning and execution skills. Moreover, moving on the swing, through the tunnel, over the bench will help in developing spatial awareness concepts in relationship to the environment.

3) Animal Walks: Walking like a bear, the elephant, a duck or a seal will improve body sense.It will help in developing body's internal awareness. Additionally, animal walks provide proprioceptive-vestibular inputs activating sensory processing systems. Along with this, core body strengthening, balance, postural control of upper and lower body develops supporting the child to perform better in gross motor and fine motor skills.

5) Involve in home chores: Involving the child in kitchen activities such as asking him to give you different items needed will help to develop under-over, left-right concept. You may ask him to put the cake for baking in the lowermost shelf of the oven or put in dishes within the dishwasher. Doing work like car washing, vacuuming, cleaning, mopping will give proprioceptive feedback. Tasks like preparing to dine  (putting cutlery on the table, with correct position of utilities) will help in developing left, right, top, bottom concepts.

6) Target Games: Activities involving trunk rotation and both sides of the body should be incorporated such as throwing bean bags while picking from left and throwing them to the right side. Throwing them in hoops, buckets or bags can be done for proprioceptive input.Moreover, throwing balls, rings, darts at targets from various distances can be helpful to improve visual motor skills.Activities, like tossing balls and playing bat ball, will improve eye-hand coordination too.

7) Body Paint: Ask the child to paint his particular body parts such as right-hand or left-hand index finger. This can be a great fun activity for sensory seeking seekers and children with tactile discrimination difficulties. Drawing different shapes, letters and numbers on hand, leg and back will help in improving body awareness as well as self-concept.

8) Hiding Objects Games: Hide different objects in the room and ask the child to find them. Two things can be hidden together such as lock and key.Throwing balls ring darts, at the target. 

9) Confined Space: Children should be given small, organised spaces to work in as they feel secure and confident in confined spaces compared to large space areas.

10) Handwriting difficulties: This is a concern for children with poor body awareness. To know more, read the article.