Sit back and relax. What do you feel inside your body? Are your muscles tense or relaxed? Are you thirsty? Is your heart beating fast or slow? Do you need to use the bathroom?
To answer these question, you must use your interoception system. This system helps you feel or sense the inside of your body. It allows you to feel many important bodily sensations such as muscle tension, hunger, fullness, pain, nausea, bathroom needs, and body temperature. The interoception system also plays a vital role in sensing the emotions you are feeling.
Some individuals have difficulty registering these internal sensations and/or making sense of the information. Some of the difficulties could include:
- Under-responsiveness: These individuals have difficulty registering or making sense of their internal bodily sensations. For example, they may not “feel” mad until they are already hitting because they did not recognize that their heart was racing, skin was hot, and muscles were tense. They also may not notice bodily sensations, such as the urge to use the bathroom.
- Over-responsiveness: These individuals over register internal sensations and tend to have a larger reaction than most individuals would. For example, they may have a meltdown over a small injury or may use the bathroom more often than required to avoid the feeling of a full bladder.
- Difficulty with discrimination: These individuals are able to register internal sensations but have difficulty deciphering what the feeling is or where it is coming from. For example, they may be able to tell they feel sick but are unable to tell what body part does not feel well.
Having trouble with this sense can make it difficult to have appropriate reactions to emotions and bodily sensations. For example, people with typical interoception take a drink when they feel thirsty, they tell someone or take medicine when they feel nauseous, and they can use a coping strategy when they feel angry. For an individual with difficulty with interoception these reactions do not easily occur because they may not be able to register how they are feeling or be able to connect it to their bodily or emotional state in order to form the appropriate reaction.
Having difficulty with interoception is not as well-known as other sensory processing difficulties, but the good news is that research shows that interoception can be improved. Majority of the treatment approaches include mindfulness-based activities involving focusing on specific body parts and how they feel during various activities, as well as incorporating modifications and adaptations specific to the individual.
The occupational therapists at The Therapy Spot are skilled at finding the specific and individualized strategies that will work to improve interoception in your child. If you have concerns regarding your child’s interoception, contact our office to speak with an occupational therapist or schedule an occupational therapy evaluation.
Mahler, K. (2017). Interoception: The eighth sensory system. Lenexa, Kansas: AAPC Publishing
Morin, A. (n.d.). Interoception and sensory processing issues: What you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/sensory-processing-issues/interoception-and-sensory-processing-issues-what-you-need-to-know