What is a heavy work activity? Before my son was diagnosed with autism, I’d never heard the term before.
Because of his Sensory Processing Disorder combined with autism, heavy work activities were suggested.
Thankfully, many day-to-day activities are considered “heavy work.” As long as there is a push and pull sensation exerted on the muscles and joints.
While some activities may not seem like heavy work, by adding weight or some form of resistance to the body the activity easily turns into heavy work!
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What’s the purpose of heavy work activities?
Heavy work activities are any activity involving a push or pull sensation on the body’s joints.
This helps activate the body’s senses of where it is in relation to space, also known as proprioception sense.
It can help children with sensory issues feel grounded and centered.
For occupational therapists, heavy work activities are used to help children who avoid or seek out specific sensory input.
The proprioception sense in children with sensory issues does not work as well.
If a child struggles with proprioceptive input he or she may have balance issues, stumble/trip often, or exert too much force completing everyday tasks.
→Doors are slammed not shut quietly
→Toys often end up broken due to rough play
→Pencils/crayons/markers are pushed too hard onto paper when drawing or writing
My son is (mostly) a sensory seeker. He constantly running, jumping, and crashing into walls, furniture, and the floor.
I’m always worried about him getting hurt more than just scrapes and bruises. He frequently will break toys from playing too rough or break furniture from rocking too hard.
While we can tell him through sign language and verbal speech to “calm down” or “take it easy,” he still has a constant need to crash into everything. This also includes people!
I’ve had many instances where my son suddenly jumps onto me with no warning and it’s painful!
I’m hoping heavy work activities will help give him the sensory stimulation he’s craving.
What are the benefits of heavy work activities?
-Creates a calming sensation to lower stress and anxiety
-Grounds the body to create spatial awareness
-Decreases oral stimming/chewing on non-food items
-Increases focus and attention
-Prevents sensory overload
Heavy work activities
Remember, heavy work activities are any activities that push or pull on the joints. Therefore some of the following activities can be done, but need more pull/push force behind them to make them “heavy work.”
Swimming- This can’t always be done except in the winter months. If your child is a bit uncoordinated, swimming may be a difficult activity for him/her.
Climbing on a jungle gym- You can also provide an indoor gym system as well.
Jump rope- More force can be exerted with weighted jump ropes.
Jumping on a trampoline- By fare the best heavy work activities I can provide my son. We have a large outdoor trampoline and a small indoor trampoline for the winter months.
Wheelbarrow walking- Hold your child’s feet in the air and have him/her walk with their hands only.
Squishing or molding Playdough- Many playdough sets come with tools to add extra resistance to the hand, wrist, and arm joints.
Blowing bubbles- This specifically helps a child with oral stimming issues.
Marching/running in place- Good for small or tight spaces in the home or classroom and doesn’t require any extra objects for resistance.
Ankle and/or wrist weights- This is one activity I started using that my son (surprisingly) loved!
Wall push-ups- Many small children can’t do regular push, but can do modified push-ups against the wall or on their knees.
Riding a tricycle or bicycle
Weighted ball catch- This needs to be done with a lightweight ball and your child does need to pay attention to avoid any injury.
Swinging on monkey bars- There are also indoor trapeze bars you can purchase to hang on a door frame.
Cooking activities like kneading dough
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Moving chairs/rearranging furniture
Pushing a shopping cart- Small play shopping carts also work well if loaded with heavy objects like books.
Carrying grocery bags- Works better with cloth or reusable bags to heavier objects can be carried.
Carrying or pulling a laundry basket across the floor
Mopping or sweeping the floor
Taking out the trash
Climbing activities- Outdoor or indoor climbing pegs provide the push/pull force sensory children need
Tug of war- I’ve found a large bed sheet works amazing for tug of war and is a fun interactive activity for kids with autism.
Pillowcases weighed down with stuffed animals and carried around a room
Cushion diving- Take couch cushions and pile on the floor to jump and crash on
Scooter board riding
Pushing a wheelbarrow
Watering outdoor plants and trees with a bucket of water
Push a box of books on the floor
Moderately heavy backpack- If your child cannot stand upright, the backpack is too heavy. Start light, then add more weight one item at a time.
Chewable sensory toys- Fidget toys, chewable necklaces, pencil toppers, and more help work the oral muscles and joints while deterring chewing on clothes, and in-edible items.
Suck a milkshake through a small to medium straw- Your child can also blow bubbles through a straw.
Use a Theraband or exercise band- This can be wrapped around the legs of a chair for sitting activities or used for stretching and exercise resistance.
Jump or crash on a crash pad/beanbag chair– Stuffed animals in a duvet cover also works as a make-shift crash pad and/or beanbag chair
Army crawl- You can make this part of an obstacle course where your child crawls under and between chairs.
Play “Row Row Row Your Boat” with a friend- Simply have your child face you or another child and hold hands. Then do the push/pull motion of rowing and sing the rhyme.
Wash countertops and/or tables
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Wash the car
Fill large toy trucks (like Tonka trucks) with books or blocks to push around
Bounce a small to medium size ball
Play leap from (over objects)
Bounce on a Hopper Ball
Take a dance break
Roll a large yoga ball around
Kart wheels- This activity over time should increase a child’s sense of balance and coordination.
Dig in a sandbox with handheld toy shovels
Exercise tube bands- Similar to flat exercise bands, tube band resistance can be adjusted to meet your child’s needs.
Since starting heavy work activities I’ve seen major improvements in the reduction of my son’s sensory overload.
He seems to be handling loud noises and certain textures better than he did before.
However, I feel my son is a child that needs tons of heavy work activities to meet his sensory needs.
I’m still learning as a go with how to incorporate heavy work activities into his daily schedule without it feeling like “work.”
Of course, I want each of the activities to be fun that was y doesn’t feel like he’s doing work!
I am still trying to adjust his daily dose of heavy work activities, but try to stick to the activities he loves the most. Those include…
-Jumping on the trampoline
-Tug of war
-Exercise with tube bands
-Pulling laundry baskets around the room
-Playing with Playdough
If you have a sensory child that becomes overly or under-sensitive to input, give heavy work activities a try! Many of the activities are considered fun for children! If you think of any more heavy work activities to add to this list, comment below and let me know!
Heavy work and sensory processing disorder
Sensory processing and heavy work