What is Interoception?
- A sense that helps you understand and feel what is going on inside of your body (internal sense)
- For example, you can feel if your heart is beating fast and you need to take a breath or breathe more deeply
- Children who struggle with the interoceptive sense may have difficulty knowing when they feel hungry, hot, cold, or thirsty
- It is not uncommon for children who struggle with this sense to be delayed in toilet training because they may not be able to feel when their bladder is full
- Difficulties with this sense can also make the skill of self-regulation a challenge
- This sense begins from receptors inside of your organs, including your skin
- These receptors send information about the inside of your body to your brain, which helps regulate our vital functions like body temperature, hunger, thirst, digestion, and heart rate
- For a child with sensory processing disorder, their brain has trouble making sense of the information. They may not be able to feel pain, or when they are hungry, or an itch may feel like pain (a feeling may be misinterpreted)
- Children who struggle with their interoceptive sense may have difficulty understanding or “feeling” their emotions. Without being able to feel and interpret bodily sensations, it is harder to clearly identify an emotion
- For example, a child may not recognize or feel fear because they do not recognize that their muscles are tense, that their heart is racing, or that their breathing is shallow
- Children who suffer with this sense may not be able to identify the real source of their discomfort so they may become frustrated or have meltdowns
- Children who are sensory seekers may crave interoceptive input as they move quickly because it feels right to them or do not eat/drink as much as other children because being hungry or thirsty feels comfortable for them
- Children who are under-responsive to sensory input may not feel or respond to sensations when they should. For example, the child may not eat as often as others because they may not feel hunger or thirst
What conditions can be affected by a dysfunction of the interoception sense:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Sensory Processing Disorder
- Anxiety Disorder/Depression
- Down syndrome
- Eating Disorder
There is a questionnaire parents can answer about their children to detect if they may have issues with interoceptive awareness. Some of the sample questions on the Caregiver Questions for Interoceptive Awareness are:
- Does the individual have difficulty controlling their emotions? If so, how often does this happen?
- Does the individual have difficulties with sleep? Describe.
- Do you ever need to remind the individual to eat, even after long periods of time?
- Has the individual ever been injured and not felt pain? If so, describe.
- Has the individual ever been sick and not realized it (i.e had strep throat for a few days before it was detected?
- Mindfulness activities such as medication can help children become more aware of how the sensations in their body feel
- Heavy work activities
- A sensory diet incorporating a multi-sensory activity approach
- Educating the parent and child about interoception and helping them to understand their body and the feelings that it produces, so they can better understand the meaning behind these feelings
- Complete a body scan to detect how your body is feeling and to become more self-aware, start at the brain and work your way all the way down your body until you reach your feet and toes:
- Think about your brain. Does your brain feel focused, distracted, heavy, blank, fast, tense, scattered, or dizzy?
- Think about your eyes. Do they feel blurry, heavy, itchy, watery, teary, or stingy?