As adults, we mostly have a good sense of when we are hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold or need to go to the bathroom. When we receive these sensations from our body we are generally able to identify what the feeling is and respond to it appropriately. This indicates a well functioning interoceptive system. It is proven, that our ability to read our own physical signs is directly related to how well we can identify and self-regulate our emotions (https://occupationaltherapy.com.au/interoception/). Some children and adults do not have a well functioning interoceptive system, and are unable to identify physical symptoms, or relate these to emotions or feelings. Sometimes these physical symptoms are misinterpreted for other feelings, emotions or situations, which can make it difficult to self-regulate effectively and appropriately.
How does it impact children?
- Children or adults may become over responsive to sensory information, sensing that they feel extremely hot or in pain when the situation does not appear that way.
- They may not respond to pain unless it hits a very intense or dangerous level (this is termed under responsive).
- They may sense sensory information, but not be able to interpret where the physical symptoms are coming from and what this means
- Sensory information can be confused for a different location/type of sensation (such as interpreting feeling angry rather than feeling too hot).
- Overall, difficulties in understanding body symptoms and relating this to emotions can lead to feeling anxious or overwhelmed, and can lead to intense reactions (such as meltdowns, aggressive behaviour or inappropriate social behaviours) as children or adults do not know what their body is feeling and how to help it.
How can it be regulated through Occupational Therapy?
- Education on physical symptoms and emotions/feelings is crucial to somebody who experiences interoception difficulties. It is important to keep in mind that everyone is different and experiences emotions in different ways, so the physical symptoms of emotions will be different depending on the individual! Teaching awareness to children can support interoception. Helping children to have an awareness of their internal feelings, understanding what it feels like and what your body’s signs are trying to tell you, can then help your child to respond appropriately to their bodily sensations.
- Heavy work exercises, as we have mentioned in the Proprioceptive post, give awareness to the body and where it is positioned in space. This can lead to a better identification and understanding of physical sensations.
- Deep breathing exercises help children to pay attention to the physical symptoms in their body and help to calm any anxious or nervous feelings, which are common in children with interoception difficulties.
- Mindfulness activities, such as a guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation help the child to stop and notice their body and emotional state. These activities generally give time and direction to calming the body down.
- Yoga poses and meditation sessions are useful for children to help them to slow down and focus on how their body and mind are feeling.
What can I do if my child has Interoception challenges?
- Seek help from an Occupational Therapist. An Occupational Therapist will help you and your child to determine an appropriate routine ‘Sensory Diet’ that includes heavy work exercises to help alert and calm your child, so that they are better able to listen to their body symptoms and feelings.
- Help your child to understand their physical symptoms first and relate this to a particular emotion or feeling.
- Model appropriate responses to sensations and body symptoms to your child.
- Practise deep breathing, mindfulness and yoga activities daily to help bring awareness to body and feelings.