Interoception is the new ‘buzz word’ in the special needs universe. What is this thing and why do we need to know about it? Here is an ‘Out of the Pocket’ blog post to give you the fast facts.
Individuals with sensory processing disorder and other special needs often struggle to process information received through the sensory system. Remember that we have EIGHT senses:
- Proprioception (body position sense)
- Vestibular (movement sense)
FACT #1: Your skin has receptors to let us know when we are touched and what degree of pressure. We can also detect pain and injury to the skin. Interoception works in a similar way. Our organs have a sensitive lining and can give us information. We feel hunger, thirst, cramping, pain, and more from the receptors in our organs.
FACT #2: Emotional awareness is also interoception. Think about your body when you are stressed. Your heart beats fast, your breathing is shallow and fast, you may feel stomach pain or cramping, and cheeks may get red. Emotions are ‘felt’ in your body. We’ve all heard about children who get a tummy ache when it’s time to go to school. They may feel anxiety or worry and it manifests in the stomach. Your child is no different. He may feel emotions in his body and if he cannot use his words to tell you, he may act out.
Here’s another example. When you do not eat, you may feel cranky. Even Snickers candy bars use this concept in their commercials. That’s INTEROCEPTION!
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FACT #3: Interoception affects toileting. Many children with special needs and sensory difficulties have trouble with bowel movements. My own children needed diapers long after most of our friend’s children. Regulation monitors our body and responses to our surroundings. When our bladder is full, we use the toilet. If we have intestinal cramping, we find the restroom. Many people do not feel these urges. They may feel them too late or not at all. Bedwetting, frequent accidents, and holding stool/constipation are common when children struggle with interoceptive awareness.
FACT #4: Some children do not understand how to react to information from their body. If they do not feel the information OR feel it too little or too much, they may misinterpret body signals. Feelings can become mixed up or confused. Remember that a child may seem as though they are behaving badly or acting out when they may not understand the way their body feels. This is why we need to look at a child’s behavior as a way of communication.
FACT #5: Sensory activity diets or activities designed for regulating sensory often help with interoceptive awareness. Just like the other senses, interoception can improve! Practice understanding emotions and feelings is so helpful to our children and adults. Also, naming feelings when they occur can be wonderful. For example, when a child asks for a drink of water say, “You are feeling thirsty.” Also, when she is happy ask her to stop and notice the way her body feels. Is she smiling? Does she feel comfortable? How does she know?
Interoception is something we will talk about a lot more in our blog. Don’t forget to read my new book, Interoception How I Feel: Sensing My World From the Inside Out.