Interoception, the eighth sensory system, is the ability to notice and interpret internal body signals (i.e. hunger, pain, need to use the bathroom, emotions, etc.). For example, you may feel your stomach growl and know it’s time for lunch. Or you may feel your muscles tense and your heart race and know that you’re feeling angry and you need to take a break.
Many kids who have Autism, ADHD, trauma disorders, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, sensory processing disorders, toileting challenges, or behavioral challenges often experience interoception difficulties. These difficulties can make it difficult for these kids to identify and cope appropriately with their internal sensations which, in turn, makes it difficult for these kids to:
-Identify their emotions and cope appropriately
-Identify pain signals and communicate them to a trusted adult
-Know when to eat or when to stop eating
-React appropriately to environmental sensory stimuli
These difficulties make it difficult for kids to perform everyday tasks such as grooming, dressing, going to school, playing with friends, eating dinner with their family, and going on community outings.
Interoception, like any other skill, can be improved with daily practice! We can do this by combining mindfulness and IA builders. At Way to Grow, our occupational therapists use the Interoception Curriculum developed by Kelly Maher, MS, OTR/L to help your child explore and gain a deeper understanding of their inner body signals and emotions. While your child is participating in this program, you will be given weekly handouts outlining how to improve your child’s interoceptive awareness at home. Remember! Everyone experiences the world differently. When we work on interoception with your child, we encourage them to develop and use their own language to describe their internal feelings, even if they aren’t necessarily a “real” word or makes sense to the adults in their lives. For example, your child may describe something as “vibrational”, “aquatic”, or “fuzzy”. The only words we try to steer them away from are neutral words like “good”, “bad”, or “okay”. Instead, we ask “what’s good about it?” to help the child investigate the feeling further.