What Is Interoception? Everything You Should Know About This Vital Sense

Smiling counselor holding pictures during meeting with young patient with autism.We’re all familiar with the five primary senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. Then, there are the additional sense of proprioception (knowing where your body is spatially) and the vestibular sense, which is related to body positioning and balance, according to the Understood.org article “How Sensory Processing Issues Can Affect Motor Skills.”

Beyond those categories of perception, there’s yet another that many people aren’t informed about: Interoception, or the sense of what’s going on inside your body. Children with sensory processing issues might have trouble with interoception.

If you’re the parent or guardian of a child who has difficulty with sensory processing, here are the answers to some key questions you might have about this often-overlooked sense.

What is interoception?

Our bodies are filled with nerve receptors that allow us to sense what’s going on internally, according to the STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder. These receptors in our skin, muscles, bones and organs make up the interoceptive system, which gives us the ability to keep our physical bodies in a state of balance. For example, this system alerts us when we’re lacking energy and need to refuel by eating, or when we’re tired and need sleep.

Interoception also contributes to our awareness of our emotions, the Institute explains. When you’re scared, for example, you can tell because your heart beat speeds up and your muscles tighten up. Being able to accurately interpret and respond to what’s happening inside our bodies is essential to identifying and regulating our feelings, as well as responding to our biological needs.

How can poor interoception affect behavior?

Kids with sensory processing issues might have trouble making sense of the information coming from their body’s internal nerve receptors, according to the Understood.org article “Interoception and Sensory Processing: What You Need to Know.” As a result, they might struggle with identifying the emotions they’re feeling and with knowing when they need to eat, sleep or use the bathroom.

Interoception problems can cause confusion, frustration and anxiety as a child tries and fails to interpret their body’s needs, according to the STAR Institute. They might get overwhelmed by feelings and have difficulty with self-regulation, leading them to emotionally shut down, lash out, or display inappropriate smiling or laughter.

If my child has trouble with interoception, what can I do to help?

For children with interoception difficulties and/or other sensory processing issues, working with a pediatric occupational therapist can help. Occupational therapy focuses on assisting kids in achieving independence in all areas of their day-to-day lives. This type of treatment can address sensory processing and self-regulation, as well as various other areas, from fine motor skills to visual-perceptual abilities.

If you’d like to learn more about pediatric occupational therapy or have any questions about interoception, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of pediatric professionals. We deliver comprehensive, compassionate care to improve the lives of children of all ages one step at a time. You can reach us by calling 847-707-6744 or emailing info@littlestepspt.com.


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