By Kristin Connell, OTR/L
What is interoception?
Your stomach is grumbling, your mouth is dry, your heart is racing, your fists are clenched. This is your internal system signaling your brain that you are that you are hungry, thirsty, nervous or angry. You are using your interoceptive system to be aware what of what your body is telling you.
Interoception an internal sense, and the the 8th sense in our sensory system (see previous Vestibular and Proprioceptive posts for information on the 6th and 7th senses).
It is the signalling and perception of internal body sensations and emotions. The receptors inside our body, organs, muscles, skin, etc send their signals to the brain. The brain interprets these messages for us to feel body states such as hunger, thirst, pain, temperature and emotions.
This system is important because when we feel a certain way, your body responds (ie. stomach grumbling-you eat, you feel nervous-you find comfort, etc). If we feel our internal system is “off”, we try to change the imbalance by doing something.
Many people with sensory processing disorder, autism or developmental delays do not have good interoceptive awareness, therefore are not aware of their body’s sensations or emotions. Bringing awareness to these feelings will improve independence with self care skills, self regulation, perspective taking and problem solving.
How do I improve it?
Interoception is a topic that has only recently been researched and written about, so currently there is limited information on the best ways to improve this area. Here are the two most effective ways to begin the process of increasing interoception awareness.
An OT can help improve a child’s body awareness through providing specific sensory input in the clinic and at home to improve the child’s self awareness.
In addition, various programs such as Therapeutic Listening and Integrated Listening Systems (iLS) and Zones of Regulation can improve body awareness and self regulation skills as well.
Body check chart
Begin this process with positive experiences like after running around outside, after a warm shower, after a meal, etc.
Draw an outline of the person. Label specific parts-head, eyes, ears, mouth, voice, chest, heart, hands, stomach, feet, skin, muscles, etc.
Have the child label one body part and how it feels at that moment (i.e. eyes-sleepy, awake, watery, itchy, dry, etc). Continue to add body parts and corresponding sensations, depending on the level of the child.
After noticing the sensations of various body parts, give each sensation meaning. For example:
- when your eyes are watery/itchy, it means you are tired
- when your heart is beating fast, you may feel nervous or angry about something
- when your stomach makes a grumbly noise, it means you are hungry
As the child continue to progress, have them match different body states or emotions to their specific body sensations. (i.e. Nervous: hands sweaty, heart racing, legs moving, stomach fluttery)
Trace their body on a large piece of paper. Point to a body part on the drawing and have them wiggle it on their own body to build body awareness. You could also play a game of Simon Says to build awareness: touch your heart, clench your fists, breath really fast.
During a body state/emotion-label the body sensations you see, in a non judgmental way (your hands are wiggling, you are breathing fast), and write it on the drawn body. This will help bring about awareness to their sense of self and begin to understand their body’s signals.