Have you ever been SO thirsty that you felt like you could drink an entire pool of water? How did you know that you were thirsty? Maybe your throat felt dry and scratchy. Maybe you started to get a headache from being dehydrated. Or maybe your mouth began to feel clammy and sticky. Your body was able to experience these sensations, recognize these sensations, and translate those sensations into a feeling – in this case, thirst. This is the process of interoception!
Interoception is the sensory system that helps us notice our internal body signals and connect these body signals to emotions (Mahler, 2021).
Interoception is the often overlooked eighth sense in our body, joining the forces of our sense of smell, sight, touch, hearing, taste, vestibular, and proprioception. Receptors for interoception are found all throughout the body, and they pull in information about how various body parts are feeling and send this information to your brain. Your brain then interprets this information into a feeling for you to act on. This is the process of Interoceptive Awareness – or the process of understanding that when my body feels ____, that must mean that I am ____. If you are interested in learning more about interoception, check out Kelly Mahler’s extensive courses on the topic. She is an OT pioneer in the area of interoception, and has extensively influenced my knowledge on the topic!
When there is dysfunction in your interoceptive system, you have trouble knowing when you feel hungry, full, hot, cold, have to use the restroom, and more. You may also have difficult recognizing and controlling your feelings and emotions. These difficulties can make daily life uncomfortable and challenging for our children struggling with interoceptive awareness. Families may feel hopeless and not know how to support their loved ones.
This is where occupational therapy can help. Intervention for supporting difficulty with interoceptive awareness includes 3 different parts:
1) Strengthening the ability to recognize body sensations
2) Connecting these sensations to emotions
3) Acting on these emotions in an adaptive way
For example, if your child is struggling with potty training because they do not recognize the sensation of needing to pee, your child’s occupational therapist may focus on completing focused activities that help them pay attention to specific sensations in their body, starting with easier to understand body parts (hands, legs, mouth, etc) and working up to less concrete body parts (muscles, stomach, bladder, etc). As they improve their awareness of body sensations, OT can focus on connecting these sensations (i.e. wiggly body, pressure in their abdomen) to to feelings (i.e. the feeling of needing to pee) and teach clients how to act on these feelings (i.e. getting up and going to the bathroom).
We love supporting our Infinity Kids families, and we can’t wait to help support your child’s interoceptive awareness to help them meet their goals.