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What is Interoception?

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What is Interoception?

Every day, you go about using your five senses without really thinking about them: sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell. Then, there are the hidden senses. The hidden senses are less known but just as crucial, including vestibular and proprioception.

The third hidden sense, interoception, is our point of focus today. Interoception is the sense that involves processing internal information like:
  • Body temperature
  • Hunger and thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Heart rate
  • Respiration
  • Emotions
  • Digestion
As you might have guessed, our internal organs, muscles, and skin play a role in communicating this information via receptors. Generally, we go about our lives with all of this happening automatically and without effort. But some people’s bodies do not process the information as seamlessly.

What is Interoception Dysfunction?

Doctors believe several factors might cause interoception dysfunction. Today, we will discuss interoception dysfunction in children with sensory dysfunction since the two sometimes go hand in hand.
Interoception dysfunction might result in:
  • Difficulty understanding emotions
  • Difficulty understanding hunger and thirst
  • Difficulty understanding when to use the bathroom
  • Difficulty understanding pain and temperature
Everything in the body is connected, so dysfunction in one area can link to dysfunction in another area. Interoception dysfunction is seen alongside digestive disorders, developmental disorders, psychiatric disorders, and neurological disorders. 

Identifying Interoception Dysfunction

If your child has interoception dysfunction, there are some symptoms and signs you might be seeing.


Each child is unique, but there are certain things to watch for:

  • Potty training challenges - While any child can have trouble with toilet training, look out for situations where your child doesn’t notice or care that their diaper is soiled or wet or holds urine until they get an infection.
  • Eating challenges - This manifests in many ways, including overeating, undereating, or complete disinterest in mealtime. It can also include consuming too much or not enough water.
  • Pain tolerance challenges - This symptom can be dangerous. A child might sustain an injury but never tell anyone because they do not feel the pain.
  • Emotional challenges - The child might not be able to understand the emotions of others and their own emotions.


Ways to Improve Interoception

Talk with their pediatrician if you suspect your child might be struggling with interoception dysfunction. You can take many steps to help your child cope with these issues and experience happy, healthy days. An Occupational Therapist can also help you develop strategies.

Here are a few examples of what professionals might suggest:
  • Eating and drinking - Stick to a consistent mealtime, including snacks and beverages. Keeping things regular and fun is essential! Get your child their own water bottle and make mealtime enjoyable by involving your child and including them in conversations.
  • Bathroom - Try a bathroom schedule to keep your child on track and consider a reward system to encourage positive thoughts around using the toilet.
  • Mindfulness - Mindfulness is simply paying attention. You can explore this practice for yourself and your child and seek the guidance of a mindfulness expert if you like. Paying attention to thoughts, feelings, and sensations can help improve interoception.
  • Pain tolerance - In addition to not feeling pain when they should, your child might experience pain in a situation where you wouldn’t expect them to. Practice empathy even if you don’t understand why your child is in pain. Talk with your child about safety precautions and try to find ways they can engage in their favorite activities without pain. 

It can be hard to think about your child experiencing pain, thirst, hunger, or sadness without knowing what is happening. But your guidance and instruction will help them understand themselves and their bodies so they can be their absolute best.
Remember, professionals and other parents can lend their expertise, knowledge, and personal experiences to help you navigate these complex waters.

Conclusion: What is Interoception?

Interoception dysfunction doesn’t have to disrupt your child’s quality of life. With some guidance and a consistent schedule, you can develop a strategy together that helps improve interoception. How interoception dysfunction affects your child might evolve, but your support will be essential.
Your child may require changes to their schedule or routine. You also might find that a reward system creates such a positive connection between your child and specific events that they take pleasure in things they weren’t mindful of before. Wherever you are in your journey, remember the Sensory Scout community is always behind you!