Have you heard about our eighth sensory system?

Touch, smell, taste, hearing, seeing. These are the most commonly known senses.

Those who are more versed with the sensory system may be more familiar with the other two commonly recognized senses, vestibular (i.e., sense from within the inner ear) and proprioception (i.e., sense within your muscles and joints). Recent development in research has led to the belief that there is an eighth “hidden or internal sense,” called Interoception.

What is Interoception?

Interoception allows an individual to feel sensations from individual’s skin and internal organs (e.g., thirst, heart rate, breathing rate, hunger/fullness, nausea, social touch, sexual arousal, the need for bathroom, pain, itch, and muscle tension). These signals help to provide information about the internal state or condition of the body (2016, Mahler).

Why does it matter?

This information helps alert us to act in order to get our needs met and provides as a vital in the connection to our emotional and body states. For example, tight muscles, faster heart rate, tight chest, heat, and clenched jaw, may indicate an emotional state of anger (2016, Mahler).

On the other hand, a stretch in the bladder may indicate a body state of the need to use the restroom.

Without self-awareness of these signals, the urge to act may go undetected until it is too late, causing toileting accidents, large emotional reactions and more.

Self-awareness of these signals, is called “interoceptive awareness.” Individuals may experience an over-responsivity or under-responsivity to these signals which impact an individual in many ways including, daily functioning, self-regulation and emotional control.

How can we help?

We can help by identifying some of the external visible changes we can see in an individual’s body to cue them into possible body or emotional states. We can also provide opportunities to periodically check-in to reflect on individual’s body or emotional state.

You can contact your child’s occupational therapist, as they are uniquely equipped to address concerns related to sensory processing and self-regulation. They can help to promote interoceptive awareness with activities (e.g., body scanning visualizations, mindfulness), problem solving, and adaptations within the routine.

Additionally, children can benefit from anatomy and social emotional books and games as fun ways to learn about their bodies and emotions.

Want to learn more?

Visit www.kelly-mahler.com for her speaking schedule, podcasts, videos, resources, articles, and so much more!

Check out a helpful pediatric blog: https://theinspiredtreehouse.com/what-is-interoception/

Books for Parents/Clinicians:

  • Interoception: How I Feel: Sensing My World from the Inside Out by Cara N. Koscinski
  • Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System (Practical Solutions for Improving Self-Regulation, Self-Awareness, and Social Understanding) by Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L

Books for Children:

  • Listening to My Body by Gabbi Garcia
  • Way I Feel by Janan Cain

Mahler, K. J., & Craig, A. D. (2016). Interoception: The eighth sensory system: Practical solutions for improving self-regulation, self-awareness and social understanding of individuals with autism spectrum and related disorders. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC Publishing.

Written by: Christy Jo Edgerle, MS, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist