So now that you all know what interoception is (and if you don’t, no worries, click here or here for a refresher), let’s dive a little deeper.
How does this system work exactly? Well, you have sensory receptors all over and throughout your body. They send signals to your brain, which makes sense of those signals, and sends back responses to your body. They manifest as things like fear, pain, thirst or the urge to go to the bathroom. For example, if you touch something hot, your brain tells you “PAIN!”. If your stomach growls, your brain sends you a message that says “HUNGRY!”. Once you recognize the pain or hunger, you react by moving your hand away, or eating, and the pain or hunger goes away. People who have a lack of interoceptive awareness may have a hard time identifying these signals, and OT can often step in and help out.
There are three interesting studies I found that shed a light on the connection between autism and interoceptive awareness.
This article shows that autistic individuals often have significantly low interoceptive awareness, and that there is a link between the lack of awareness and anxiety.
This article discusses alexithymia (difficulty identifying, describing, and distinguishing feelings), and its link to autism, interoception, and empathy. It showed that those with alexithymia demonstrated both lower empathy and interoceptive awareness than participants without.
This study concluded that lack of interoceptive awareness in a child with autism was either resolved or compensated for by the time they reached adulthood.
Another great resource for understanding, strengthening, and finding strategies to support this system can be found in Kelly Mahler’s book, Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System. You can also join her Facebook group and join in on the discussion here.
Here are a few strategies as a launchpad to begin building awareness of the interoceptive system at any age.
- discussing and labeling the way your body feels in certain situations
- using a body part diagram/chart (including heart, lungs, muscles, etc.)
- mindfulness practice