The Secret Sensory System: Is it Impacting Your Child?

The sensory system is something that we are all familiar with. Typically, when the sensory system is mentioned the first things that spring into your mind are some of your favorite things like the smell of the holidays, the sight of a sunset, the taste of a warm cookie, the sound of the ocean, and the touch of your comfiest blanket on a cold night. In addition, most of us also know about the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, and their impact on children’s self-regulation. However there is another sensory system, the interoceptive system.

This system may become overlooked, overshadowed, and often forgotten about, however it plays an integral part to the homeostasis of your body. The interoceptive system is the sensory system of your internal organs that sense such things as hunger, thirst, mood, heart rate, temperature, and the urgency to utilize the restroom.

Therefore when a child experiences a dysfunction in this system, their body does not recognize and respond in the same manner to stimuli, and as a result a child may having difficulty with such things as potty training, eating, or determining the correct clothes to pick for the day based on temperature.

It is important to remember that the responses we have to sensory stimuli manifest as a motor response ( responses that we see as behavior at times),and that response can either be seen and interpreted as appropriate or inappropriate. Like the other sensory systems a child may be under or over responsive, meaning that the receptors on their internal organs are either not giving them enough information ( perhaps resulting in potty accidents), or they are giving them too much information and are causing them distress (perhaps resulting in outbursts.)

In order to help your child overcome the dysregulation in their interoceptive system, there are a range of activities and programs to help build their emotional awareness and vocabulary. Such programs include the Zones of Regulation, and the book entitled Emotional Intelligence 2.0. In addition some activities that may be beneficial to increase regulation are as follows:

Learning Body Signs: Working with your child when they are mad/sad/excited/hungry/need to use the restroom, to help them identify how their body acts/feels during these times.

Breathing to either alert (fast breathing) or calm (slow breathing) their system depending on if the child is under or over responsive to their internal system.

In addition, as occupational therapists, we know that proprioception and deep pressure are very organizing sensory inputs to the body. Your therapist will work with your child to establish a sensory diet in order to assist in providing additional sensory stimulation to encourage organization of the body and more appropriate responses.  

The overall goal is to help your child identify and process different internal sensations in the body to elicit the appropriate response. Working with  your occupational therapist will help you determine if your child may be experiencing these problems and how best to overcome them and continue to grow and learn.

If you feel your child is experiencing difficulty with sensory processing it may be time to schedule an evaluation. Click here to schedule.

Citation: Whitney,R.(2018). Interoception:The
hidden sensory system.OccupationalTherapy.com,Article 4515. Retrieved from http://OccupationalTherapy.com

Article written by Occupational Therapist, Samantha Kellend

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