If you’re looking for heavy work activities kids can do at home or school, you’re in the right place. These indoor and outdoor ideas will help your child with autism or sensory needs calm down, improve aggressive behaviors, help with self regulation, and gross motor skills. Whether you have a toddler or school-aged child, these easy heavy work activities will help!
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Giving your child with autism or sensory processing disorder household chores (like these heavy work activities) may be what you’re looking for to help calm, focus and sleep.
My son Nathan has autism and it took me an insane amount of time researching ASD and sensory processing disorder to discover how sensory integration activities like heavy work benefits kids like Nathan, but once I did, I felt both relieved and hopeful.
What Is Heavy Work?
Heavy work activities build muscles, joints, ligaments, and most importantly stimulate the proprioceptive receptors (located in these areas) providing your child with feedback he needs to calm down and focus.
Wait a minute, pro-prio-what?
That’s fair:) Let me break it down for you! Proprioception isn’t exactly a word that’s thrown around a lot.
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of proprioception – most parents haven’t!
Often called the seventh sense, proprioception tells us our body’s location in space so we can walk down the street without looking at our feet or eat a meal without staring at each bite of food.
Our sense of proprioception is important for body awareness and how securely we feel in our surroundings. It continues to develop over our lifetime.
For example, think of how a clumsy toddler navigates his surroundings versus a first grader!
Big difference, right?
How Heavy Work Helps
Heavy work activities involve deep muscle contraction- focusing on resistance.
All children need these activities to improve motor coordination, but children with autism need it more because they have more acute sensory needs.
Will Heavy Work Help My Child?
Your child may benefit from heavy work activities if he or she falls into one of two categories: Proprioceptive Seekers and Proprioceptive Avoiding. Seeking is the most common.
Signs You Have A Proprioceptive Seeker
Crashes into things on purpose – Like the couch, the bed, or even a wall
Chews on everything
Loves heavy blankets and rolling up or covering himself with them
Unaware of personal space
Hides in tight spaces (My son used to prefer hiding in the dryer)
Jumps on bed or couch
Has a firm/tight/rigid grasp on pencils, crayons, markers
Signs Your Child Falls Into Proprioceptive Avoiding
High pain tolerance
Difficult to wake in the morning
Highly sensitive to touch
How Heavy Work Activities Benefit Your Child
If you see that your child meets any of the above criteria, I recommend seeking an experienced Occupational Therapist to help you with a Sensory Diet of activities – including heavy work!
I’m telling you there is no substitution for the expertise and knowledge an Occupational Therapist can give. The right heavy work activities can regulate a child’s behavior and help with aggressive actions like hitting or biting, focus, motor skills and sleep.
Unfortunately, visiting an Occupational Therapist is expensive. We are lucky our OT was covered under our insurance plan. But you may not have that luxury and I’m not about to leave you hanging without a few suggestions.
Just know I am not a medical professional and I’m not passing this 411 on as a substitute for medical advice:)) I’m the mom of fabulous little boy with autism and a writer – not a doctor:)
Heavy Work Activities
The Good News: There is no shortage of heavy work activities for proprioceptive disorders, and most of them use no expensive equipment!
You can do them at home and no, you don’t need a sensory room or gym! A lot of these exercises can be used in the classroom as well, so if your child is having trouble focusing or sitting still at school share them with your teacher or with the district at your next IEP meeting!
Heavy Work Activities (At Home)
- Backpack walk – Weight the backpack with bags of rice or weights (no more than 5% of child’s body weight)
- Laundry basket
- Bag of groceries
- Load the pantry with cans
- Animal Walks: Bear walks, Frog jumps, Crab walks
- Marching or jogging in place
- Load the shopping cart
- Wrestle (With rules for the start, stop, etc.)
- Tug of war
- Playing with yoga balls or medicine balls
- Play dough activities
- Crash Pad
- Bean Bag
- Jump Rope
Pushing | Pulling | Throwing
- Pull a wagon
- Push a grocery basket
- Push a stroller
- Push a vacuum, broom, mop, etc
- Push a wheelbarrow
- Play catch with a medicine ball
- Play catch with water balloons
- Play catch with a pillow
- Throw pillows
- Throw bean bags into baskets
- Throw stuffed animals into a basket
Running & Riding
- Ride a tricycle
- Ride a bike
- Run a lap around your house
- Run a race to your car
At the Playground
- Climb on monkey bars
- Climb on rock walls
- Play on a rope swing
- Play in the sandbox
- Drinking Milkshakes from Straws
- Blowing Bubbles
- Blowing Pinwheels
- Crunchy Snacks
- Chewable Jewelry
- “Rolling Dough” Roll a therapy ball over your child while lying on the floor
- “Burrito” Roll your child up in a mat and apply gentle to firm pressure
- Weighted Blankets
- Weighted Lap Pads
- Weighted Worm
- Dig in the garden
- Rake leaves
- Shovel snow
- Wash the car
- Climb a tree
Heavy Work Activities At School
- Clean off tables
- Wall pushups
- Chair pushups
- Backpack walk
- Squeeze Balls
- Carry heavy books
- Staple papers
- Sharpen pencils (using a manual sharpener)
- Play with Theraputty
- Sit in beanbag chair (for deep pressure input)
I hope these activities help you help your child! If you have any questions, comments, or just want to say hey – contact me anytime! You’re not in this alone!