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What is Interoception? The “8th Sense” Explained

Oct 12th, 2022 | by Tamara Sharman

Tamara Sharman

October 12th, 2022

When we typically think about our senses we think of our 5 basic senses – touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing. With each sense providing information to our brain and helping us understand the world around us. I like to think of these as our “outside senses”.  Senses that you can see. Then we have “inside senses”, senses which lie within the body. Which refers to the vestibular sense, proprioception and interoception.

What is Interoception?

Interoception is our ability to connect, identify and feel what is happening within our body. It 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.

How Can Interoception Present in My Child?

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

How to Build Interoceptive Awareness?

By helping your child become a “body clue detective” and by undertaking interoceptive activities that aim to create and notice body signals. This may include mindfulness, yoga, heavy work activities, breathing exercises, and alerting activities that focus on drawing attention to how your child feels and connecting these to emotion. Additionally, it can be done throughout the day by modeling your own body clues e.g. “That grumble in my stomach means I am hungry, and I should eat.”

Once your child becomes a body clue detective and is able to notice what their body is telling them (anxious, sick, needing the toilet) 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.

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. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

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TAGS: Blogs, OT
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