Halloweens in Washington state often involve rain. Typically, our bodies shake, shiver, or feel cold inside and out as we stand in the pouring rain taking our children to trick or treat. Have you ever noticed yourself or your child having an opposite response: your body is acting like you are inside, or maybe your child insists on running around shirtless in the cold rain? Always refuses a coat? What about your child having an accident in their costume, not because of excitement but because they often have accidents and it is becoming obvious they are too old for these events to still happen? Maybe you even watch your child eat and eat and eat candy and never feel full or sick. Or maybe you always have a “gut” sense that something is off or wrong? This is our interoception and its wealth of knowledge that something in our environment is just not right. If any of these examples resonate or intrigue you, it may be worth learning more about the forgotten interoceptive sensory system we all have.
Our interoception sensory system works to bring awareness to the inner workings of our body and regulate our internal physical states such as: hunger, thirst, pain, bathroom needs, heart, breathing, digestion, and our overall awareness of self. Just like our other sensory systems, the interoceptive system can be naturally over-or under-responsive in some individuals.
To be over-responsive to this input can mean the slightest sensations possibly leading to heightened anxiety, distraction, and even immense pain. This can look like a child who uses the restroom at the smallest sensation of needing to, often resulting in frequent trips to the restroom, or a child who grazes on food throughout the day because they sense hunger frequently.
To be under-responsive means that their body needs a lot more input in order to have awareness of internal body cues. This can look like a child does not feel the cue to use the restroom and has frequent accidents or a child who doesn’t register the feeling of hunger until they are over-hungry, and they become hangry until they are met with an immediate snack. The signals our body sends are important for maintaining safety and health, and knowing what your body may prefer in sensory experiences is important for maintaining regulation.
One way to identify some sensory preferences you have, or your child has, in relation to the interoceptive sense is by thinking about the following questions:
Do you prefer warm weather or cold weather?
Do you run hot or cold?
Do you prefer hot coffee or iced?
Do you notice when you are thirsty? Or do you find you are only chugging water when your body is screaming for hydration?
Does your child not know when they need to go to the bathroom until it’s urgent? Do they have frequent accidents?
When you have stress, does it cause you physical pain?
Are you aware of when you are hungry or not? Do you often feel hangry?
Do you have a high or low pain tolerance?
Maybe thinking about those questions or attempting to imagine what it would be like does not work for you; maybe you are someone who needs to ACT to know. Another way to explore sensory preferences for yourself or your child is to engage in the following experiences that target your interoceptive system. As you do them, notice how you or your child respond to them.
Take a warm bath, and see if you notice any changes regarding temperature inside your body.
Drink warm tea, or eat hot soup, and see if you notice any changes regarding temperature inside your body.
Try a body scan, starting at your feet and moving up. What does your body tell you you need? If you sit and take a deep breath, close your eyes and” feel” sense your feet and what they are doing, then slowly move up your body to your legs, stomach, hands, arms, and shoulders. Sometimes it can help to contract or squeeze your muscles while sensing them. This noticing of where your body is in space and how it is feeling calms our brain-body connection by putting it in touch with itself. Take deep slow breathes through this process.
Now that you have explored your interoceptive sense, and maybe even identified some preferences you or your child has, it is important to recognize if your responses are neutral or are indicative of an interoceptive sensitivity. One way to identify if you have an over, under, or neutral responsivity to interoceptive experiences is by exploring this handout.
If at this point you are noticing that you or your child may have an interoceptive sensitivity, there is no need to worry. There are professionals who are trained to assess, identify, and support sensory sensitivities and sensory processing disorders. Seeking out a professional for more information, assessment, and support is encouraged. In the meantime, we have listed some activities and guidelines to support both over and under responsivity to interoceptive experiences!
Supportive activities for an over response to interoceptive experiences:
Take a warm bath
Use an ice pack
Eat some hot soup to warm up your insides.
Drink warm tea, apple cider, or hot cocoa with your children.
Sucking on ice cubes
Hot water bottle for stomach aches
Do a full-body scan
Supportive activities for an under response to interoceptive experiences:
Increase understanding of triggers for emotional responses
Educating self and child on external body signals to injury
Encourage regular bathroom attempts
Language use of differences- opposites: hot/cold, tight/loose, soft/hard touch.
Do jumping jacks and then listen to your heartbeat
Practice yoga, meditation, exercise
Sit under a weighted blanket
Do a full-body scan
For more information on the interoceptive sensory system and Sensory Processing Disorder, please visit any of the links below.
By Celia Courser & Cary M Hamilton