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.
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 Interoception issues as a seeker or avoider and how you can help support your child with these struggles.
Interoception Issues May Appear As:
- Have disproportionately weak reactions to normally bodily cues.
- Feel pain less intensely than others and may not notice when injured.
- Be unable to register hunger or thirst until they’re practically starving.
- Do not feel an increased heart rate and may not feel tired until totally exhausted.
- Have a hard time registering when they need to use the bathroom and have frequent accidents.
- Have disproportionately strong reactions to normal bodily cues.
- Feel pain more intensely or for a longer duration than others.
- Constantly feel as if they are hungry, thirsty, or need to go to the bathroom.
How to Support Interoception Issues:
- Discussing ways to identify symptoms associated with bodily cues, such as putting your hand on your heart to feel the pounding of an increased heart rate.
- Incorporating dense, calorie-rich foods and drinks, such as protein shakes and chocolate milk, into mealtimes and snacks to ensure enough calories are being consumed.
- Encouraging your child to use the bathroom before every new activity or transition, such as getting into the car, going to bed, or washing up for dinner.
- Allowing your child to have some quiet play/transition time in his room prior to getting into bed and falling asleep.
- Work with an occupational therapist or develop self-regulation strategies.
- Treat even very minor injuries as if they are substantial. Remember, they feel serious.
- Use the bathroom or have a small snack before each new activity or transition, such as getting into the car or going to bed.
Read more about interoception on the STAR institute’s website.