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What is Interoception? The “8th Sense” Explained

Oct 12th, 2022 | by Tamara Sharman, MS, OTR/L

Tamara Sharman, MS, OTR/L

October 12th, 2022

Introducing the 3 “Inside Senses” – Vestibular, Proprioception and Interoception

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 interoception (sometimes referred to as the eighth sense).

What is Interoception?

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.

Understanding Interoception: The Key to Deciphering Our Body’s Inner Signals

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.

Interoception lets us know if we are in pain, hungry, thirsty, feeling sick, or if we need to go to the bathroom.

Teaching Interoceptive Awareness In Order to Identify Emotions

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.

Difficulties Processing Interoceptive Information

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:

  • Trouble identifying emotions
  • Having “big” emotions
  • Can go the whole day without eating and/or continue to eat well past feeling full
  • Always feeling thirsty or excessively drinking
  • Challenges with toileting (constipation)
  • Does not notice when they are hurt or sick
  • Reporting pain or sickness often

Interoception Activities and Exercises Used in Occupational Therapy

Engage your child in interoception activities that aim to create and identify body signals, including:

  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Yoga
  • Heavy work activities
  • Breathing exercises
  • Alerting interoception activities that focus on drawing attention to how your child feels and connecting these to emotion
  • Modeling your own body clues throughout the day, e.g. “That grumble in my stomach means I am hungry, and I should eat.”

Provide Interoceptive Exposure by Helping Your Child Become a “Body Clue Detective”

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 interoception exercises based on your child’s needs.

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

Tamara Sharman is a pediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Sydney. Her favorite part about working in pediatrics is watching children achieve their goals! When not at work she enjoys drinking coffee in the sunshine.

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to pediatric 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.

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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