Interoception, emotional regulation and sensory processing – All the feels!

Interoception plays a crucial role in a child’s development, particularly in their ability to understand and respond to internal bodily sensations.

What is Interoception?

Interoception refers to our ability to perceive and interpret internal bodily sensations, such as hunger, thirst, temperature, heart rate, and the need to use the bathroom. It is our internal awareness—the way we sense what is happening inside our bodies. Think of it as the body’s internal alarm system, sending signals that help us understand and respond to our physiological needs. This awareness is crucial for maintaining homeostasis, or the body’s equilibrium, by prompting appropriate actions like eating when hungry or resting when tired.

The Link to Paediatric Occupational Therapy

So, how does interoception tie into Paediatric occupational therapy?

Well, occupational therapists specialise in helping children develop the skills they need to participate in daily activities to the best of their abilities. Interoception is a fundamental aspect of this process.

For many children, especially those with sensory processing difficulties, emotional regulation challenges or neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), interoceptive awareness may be impaired. They may struggle to recognise or interpret internal cues, leading to challenges in self-regulation, emotional understanding, and overall well-being.

Interoception in Practice

In Paediatric occupational therapy, therapists work to enhance interoceptive awareness through various interventions and strategies tailored to each child’s unique needs. Here are some ways this is accomplished:

1. Mindfulness and Body Awareness Activities: Therapists may engage children in mindfulness exercises, body scans, or yoga to help them tune into their bodily sensations and become more aware of their internal state.

2. Sensory Integration Therapy: Interoception is linked to other sensory systems, so sensory integration therapy can help children improve their overall sensory processing abilities, including interoceptive awareness.

3. Social-Emotional Learning: Understanding one’s own internal state is essential for social-emotional development. Therapists may incorporate activities that promote emotional regulation, empathy, and self-awareness into therapy sessions.

4. Environmental Modifications: Occupational therapists may suggest environmental modifications to support interoception, such as providing sensory-friendly spaces or implementing sensory diets tailored to the child’s sensory needs.

5. Collaboration with Families and Caregivers: Educating families and caregivers about the importance of interoception and providing strategies for supporting their child’s development at home is an integral part of Paediatric occupational therapy.

The Impact of Interoception

Improving interoceptive awareness can have a profound impact on a child’s quality of life. By better understanding and responding to their internal cues, children can enhance their self-regulation skills, participate more fully in daily activities, and foster greater independence and well-being. By addressing interoceptive challenges and promoting internal awareness, paediatric occupational therapists empower children to navigate the world with greater confidence, resilience, and self-understanding.

= Alix Armstrong Peadiatric Occupational Therapist (OT) at Alara Womens Health Tuggerah