Did you know there are actually 8 sensory systems? When we think about our senses, we typically think of our 5 basic senses – touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing. Each of these basic senses provides information to our brain and helps us understand the world around us. I like to think of these as our “outside senses” as they are the senses that you can see. Then we have “inside senses” which lie within the body: the vestibular sense, proprioception and the interoception (sometimes referred to as the eighth sense).
So, what is interoception? Interoception is our ability to connect, identify and feel what is happening within our body. Interoception lets us answer the question “How do I feel?” The receptors responsible for interoceptive awareness are located within the brain and provide a sense of what our internal organs are feeling.
Interoception lets us know if we are in pain, hungry, thirsty, feeling sick, or if we need to go to the bathroom.
Interoceptive awareness also lets us identify how we are feeling and gives us the ability to understand what happens to our body as a response to each emotion. For example, when you feel anxious you might feel your muscles tighten, a quick heartbeat, you may feel nauseous or trembling throughout your body. These are all “body clues” and interoceptive awareness allows you to know that you are anxious. From there we can identify the emotion and implement action to change if needed.
Teaching children strategies to regulate their emotions is only one part of the puzzle. The first stage is teaching interoceptive awareness so that we can identify each emotion.
Like all sensory systems and sensory development, there can be difficulties processing interoceptive information. Children can be over-responsive to this information and/or under-responsive. Common patterns that indicate difficulties with interoceptive awareness include:
Engage your child in interoception activities which aim to create and identify body signals, including:
Another way to increase interoceptive exposure is by telling your child they are a “body clue detective” and have them identify what their body is telling them (anxious, sick, needing the toilet) throughout the day. With time, it becomes easier for a child to connect body signals to an emotion and learn strategies to help.
Ask your occupational therapist about specific interoceptive activities based on your child’s needs.
Tamara Sharman is a paediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Sydney. Her favorite part about working in paediatrics is watching children achieve their goals! When not at work she enjoys drinking coffee in the sunshine.
At NAPA Centre, we take an individualised approach to paediatric therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals.