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Interoception

Interoception is one of the body’s senses that allows us to understand and recognise signals from inside the body like hunger from our stomach, a dry mouth when we’re thirsty and pain around the body if we're injured or sick. 


Developing an interoceptive awareness means we can process these sensations and then act on the body’s needs, such as noticing a full bladder and then going to the bathroom.


Having a well-developed interoceptive awareness means we are also aware of the body’s emotional cues, allowing time to process and interpret what we are feeling and then act in an appropriate way. 





Why is interoception important?

Interoception plays a critical role in how we understand and manage our bodies' internal states. It can help with self-regulation and emotional awareness which is essential for responding appropriately to different situations. It also helps develop empathy and understanding other's emotions.


How can you tell if your child has difficulty with interoception?


Children that have difficulty with interoception may have trouble with:

  • Identifying when they are hungry, thirty, or need to use the bathroom

  • Recognising and expressing emotions

  • Trouble pinpointing pain or other symptoms when sick

  • Understanding their own and/or other’s emotions

  • Over/under sensitivity to sensory information

  • Identifying building signs of anxiety/anger/upset  (prior to a meltdown)


Activities to work on developing interoception


  • Tense and relax body parts → get your child to describe the different feelings in muscles when tensing/relaxing.

  • Sensory exploration → ask your child how their body feels when doing different activities (e.g. what do you hands feel when holding that cold glass, how do your eyes feel when the lights are bright, what is your tummy feeling when it’s hungry etc).

  • Yoga and simple stretches → getting your child to move and asking them how their body feels (e.g. touching toes - how does your head/brain feel).

  • Emotion check ins → describe what they’re feeling, where they feel it in their body

  • Feelings journal → get your child to keep a feelings journal to jot down different emotions with different activities.


Strategies:

  • Deep breathing → if you notice your child is having difficulty with their emotions, do some deep breathing and ask them how they feel before/after.

  • Encourage interoceptive talk → ask your child what they feel in their body during different activities/feelings when they are calm. It is important to do this when they are in a position to focus on what their body is feeling. Attempting to do this during a time where your child is extremely upset or close to a meltdown may cause an even stronger reaction.

  • Routines with self-care → regular bathrooms times, mealtimes and sleeping can help your child tune in to what their body is feeling and it’s needs


References

Hample, K., Mahler, K., & Amspacher, A. (2020). An Interoception-Based Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Pilot Study. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools & Early Intervention, 13(4), 339–352. https://doi.org/10.1080/19411243.2020.1743221

Pinna, T., & Edwards, D. J. (2020). A Systematic Review of Associations Between Interoception, Vagal Tone, and Emotional Regulation: Potential Applications for Mental Health, Wellbeing, Psychological Flexibility, and Chronic Conditions. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 1792–1792. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01792

Price, C. J., & Hooven, C. (2018). Interoceptive Awareness Skills for Emotion Regulation: Theory and Approach of Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy (MABT). Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 798–798. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00798

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