The foundation of our interpretation of the world around us lies within our eight sensory systems. One system in particular is often overlooked and misunderstood: the interoceptive system. This system is often labeled “the hidden sense,” as it is the body’s internal registration of sensory input. This system is responsible for registering sensations of hunger, thirst, pain, temperature, and bathroom needs.
While most children process interoceptive information efficiently, this does not come easily for many children who have sensory processing challenges. Difficulty with interoceptive processing not only impacts day-to-day function and the ability to meet basic human needs, but it can also impact emotional regulation. Without being able to adequately register signs of anger, stress, or excitement (including a fast heart beat, sweaty palms, or “butterflies” in the stomach), it becomes much more difficult to respond to a situation appropriately. Because of this, it is important to address these challenges at this foundational level, as any disruption in sleep, eating, or toileting needs is very likely to impact a child’s overall engagement and ability to access skill. Difficulties with interoception can often lead to constipation, low food intake, high pain tolerance, and difficulty with consistent toileting habits. Not only does this make the day harder in terms of maintaining an optimal level of arousal, but it can impact self-esteem as children become aware of how they are “different” from their peers.
Signs of difficulty with interoception processing:
- Lack of hunger
- Increased thirst and/or need for water
- Frequent bladder or bowel accidents
- Frequent bed wetting
- Difficulty registering body temperature (i.e. requiring a cue to put on a jacket)
One of the best ways to support the interoceptive system is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system through vestibular and proprioceptive input. In the clinic environment, this means providing targeted input to the body to support the child’s internal and external body awareness.
Ways to support interoception processing at home:
- Social stories
- Reviewing body clues for body sensations
- Yoga and mindfulness
- Increased proprioceptive input