Running into Walls
Sensory-seeking behaviors like hitting and pushing, biting and butting are unacceptable because your child might hurt somebody else. Running into walls, on the other hand, is unacceptable because your child might hurt herself. She may enjoy crashing because, once again, it gives some good strong input to her muscles and joints.
Or she may crash because she just can't get the hang of where her body ends and blunt objects like walls and tables and corners begin. If her vestibular sense is weak, she'll be particularly poorly equipped to judge distances before things come crashing in on her. And if her tactile sense is weak, she won't be feeling any pain when she bops into that corner again and again and again.
A lack of understanding of distances plus a lack of fear of bumping or being bumped can cause problems in areas other than walls. One mother recalls the way her son used to walk into the car's rearview mirror every time he passed the vehicle.
Your child may bop his head more than you'd expect, on doors, doorframes, bunk beds, furniture, and other things that seem easily evaded but are nevertheless in the way. You'll certainly want to keep an eye on your child when he walks by a swing set on which other children are swinging — he may not keep a safe distance and wind up getting kicked in the head.
Rocking and Rolling
Like children who have problems with the vestibular sense — and vestibular and proprioceptive problems often go hand in hand — children who don't get good information from their muscles and joints may enjoy rocking hard, whether forward and back or side to side when sitting or standing, or side to side when lying down. Your child may need to do some hard rocking in bed, throwing his body from side to side, sometimes even ricocheting off a wall if there's one beside his mattress, before he can calm himself to sleep.
For your child with proprioceptive issues, you can buy a weighted blanket from an occupational therapy catalog, or you can contact a business like DreamCatcher Weighted Blankets to get one made. If you want to see if it works before investing, take a heavy afghan or blanket and fold it in half or in quarters to concentrate the weight.
Rocking is another one of those behaviors that disturbs parents but serves a need for the child. If she will allow you to find substitutes for the rocking, such as sitting in a rocking chair with her before bed, giving her a lot of hard exercise in the evening, or putting a heavy blanket on her to give her some good input as she lies still, that's great — go ahead and do that. If not, you may be wise to put aside your personal qualms and let your child rock. Make her stop, and you'll both pay the price for sleeplessness the next day.
Fingers and Thumbs
One final proprioceptive crutch that baffles and annoys parents while giving a child great comfort is thumb- or finger-sucking. You can't beat those digits for some quick, powerful sensory input. Sucking gives a lot of tactile input to the mouth, and providing a lot of proprioceptive tugging at the joints of the fingers and hands. It is an activity that can be intensely calming, comforting, and organizing to a child with sensory integration disorder.
Again, as with all the activities your child seeks out to bolster pro-prioceptive input, you're really going to want to take a good look at the pros and cons of stopping sucking. Damage to your child's teeth is a good reason to make your child stop, but you can't necessarily assume that's happening. Keep in close consultation with your child's dentist so you'll know as soon as there really is a problem, and then don't spend a lot of energy and worry anticipating one.
The opinions and attitudes of others may seem a compelling reason to remove the thumb or fingers — school playmates can be cruel about the habit, and so can grandmothers — but if your child doesn't feel the social pressure personally, you may want to stop feeling it on his behalf.
Try things like chewing gum or lollipops to give your child the same sensory input she gets from sucking on her thumb or fingers, and it may work — while the gum or candy is in her mouth. But unless you're providing a constant supply, your child will probably revert back to those always-convenient fingers.
In the end, finger- and thumb-sucking is a lot like smoking cigarettes. It's an activity that bears a social stigma and a potential for bodily harm, but it is so highly calming to the individual that he may decide to put up with all the trouble rather than give it up. If you're determined to make your child stop, be aware that it will carry about the same degree of difficulty as a smoker giving up cigarettes.
It's not likely that your child will be able to just stop through a desire to please you or sheer force of will. Especially if the decision is not his, there will need to be lots of support and alternatives and distractions offered to help him make it through. Try to start with one short period of the day being thumb-free, or one room in the house. A little at a time is best — at least until somebody invents a thumb-sucking patch.