Sensory Spotlight: Interoception (Internal Bodily Awareness)

This is the ninth and final installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

Interoception is the body’s ability to recognize and interpret its own internal cues, such as hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and pain. Children with interoceptive processing issues typically have disproportionately weak or strong reactions to normal bodily urges, such as feeling hungry or needing to use the bathroom. They may not be able to recognize pain or symptoms of exhaustion, or they might be unable to properly gauge the severity of such symptoms. You can read more about how the interoceptive system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

Like proprioception, interoception is not as commonly recognized as other senses, but it plays a critical role in the body’s ability to regulate and protect itself. It’s how you know when you’re exhausted and need to rest, when you’re hungry and need to eat, or when you’re cold and need to put on a jacket.

See below for a quick guide on identifying interoceptive seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Interoceptive Seekers May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions to normally bodily cues.
  • Crave interoceptive input and have problems with self-regulation.

Interoceptive Avoiders May:

  • Have disproportionately strong directions to normally bodily cues.
  • Constantly feel they are hungry, thirsty, or need to use the bathroom.
  • Feel pain more intensely or for a longer duration than others.

Those with Interoception Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions—or no reaction—to normal bodily cues.
  • Have a high pain threshold and may not notice when injured.
  • Be unable to register hunger, thirst, or the need to use the bathroom until it’s an emergency.
  • Be unable to detect increased heart rate or breathing and may not feel tired until totally exhausted.

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