Heavy Work in Autism: Becoming Grounded and Energized

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

"Calm down!"

"Pay attention."

"Get going."

"Wake up!"

Sometimes words are not enough to change the rhythms of our nervous systems. Physical inputs can also help the nervous system get centered and run more smoothly.

Parents of young kids on the spectrum have probably heard the recommendation to have the little ones do "heavy work" to help with calming. Many times, however, parents don't understand why. And most of the time, adults have never heard of this strategy at all.

When someone does "heavy work," she is getting proprioceptive inputs into her nervous system. These inputs are transmitted when there is pulling, pushing, or hanging through the joints. Heavy work such as lifting boxes, carrying a heavy backpack, shoveling snow, or playing tug of war provide proprioceptive inputs.

The use of sensory inputs to shift the nervous system is one the most effective but infrequently used strategies for calming or alerting in autism. If the individual has a hard time waking in the morning or problems paying focused attention, proprioceptive inputs can help with alerting. In the same way, if the autistic individual is too hyper, upset, or agitated, these inputs will help with calming. Because the strategy helps with alerting or calming, the practice can be thought of as centering.

Try some of these options to regulate the nervous system:


crab walking


rock climbing


weight lifting

These practices allow the individual options for nervous system regulation that don't rely solely on instructions ("calm down") or medications.

Photo by Anupam Mahapatra on Unsplash

#autism #adultautism #autismregulation

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