Adults and children alike rely on their senses to obtain information about our environment.  The five senses that people commonly think of are touch, taste, sight, and smell – these senses give us information about the world around us.  However, three other senses provide us with information about our own bodies: Proprioception, vestibular input, and interoception.  Interoception is the process of interpreting information that comes from our internal organs.  These signals tell us that we feel hungry or thirsty, need to use the bathroom, or even if we feel unwell.  This sense helps us realize that our heart is beating too fast, that we have butterflies in our stomachs or feel dysregulated.  While crucial to our well-being and ability to function, interoception is often overlooked.

 

Examples of children who could benefit from intervention include:

 

-A child who has a meltdown before lunch but cannot identify that he feels dysregulated because he is hungry

-A child with an anxiety disorder who withdraws when transitioning to gym class

-An older child who has frequent accidents or realizes they have to urinate when it is nearly too late

-A child who gets over-excited and therefore dysregulated when there is a notable change in the schedule

 

Intervention helps children process the sensory information coming into their brains and communicate what they need.  When a child identifies that they need rest, water, or a bathroom break, they can fulfill that need.  Only when that need is met can they reach the higher level executive functioning skills needed for learning.  Try these strategies to help children process and interpret information about their bodies:

 

Practice observing other senses. Interoception is more abstract than the sense of sight or smell, especially to children.  Before diving into interoception, practice with the sensation of touch.  Explore hot and cold, soft and rough, or clean and dirty.  Start to think about if the sense brings up an emotion such as discomfort or calm.

 

Experiment.  Give children an opportunity to observe their bodies at rest.  Then challenge them to a brief but intense exercise period (jumping jacks or sprints work well for this).  Allow your students to observe and compare how they felt before and after the exercise.

 

Be detectives.  Use a poster of the body and let older students brainstorm different sensations from different body parts.  Focus on one organ at a time and ask them guiding questions or provide examples as necessary.  This is an excellent tool for visual learners.

 

Give examples.  Having the right words to describe the concept can be a barrier for many individuals with interoception challenges.  Share how different cues make you feel.  Maybe when your stomach is empty, it feels hollow and rumbling.  Challenge yourself to open up about your signals to help give your students the tools and language they need.

 

Zones of Regulation. Already using the Zones of Regulation curriculum?  Help children align how they react from their internal signals with the zones.  For example, a child might be in the yellow zone when their heart beats too fast or the blue zone when they feel overtired.

 

Mindfulness.  Use a guided meditation to tune into different body functions (like breathing).  You can also practice using a moment of silence to check in with your body.  This can be as simple as asking preschoolers to check in with their bodies to see if they need to use the bathroom or as thorough as a complete guided body scan.

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