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The Power of Interoception

As pediatric occupational therapy practitioners, we are constantly exploring ways to enhance our understanding of how the body and mind work together. One crucial aspect that often goes unnoticed is interoception - a powerful sense that allows us to feel and interpret the signals

from within our own bodies. Recent research has revealed that interoception plays a significant role in emotional regulation, self-awareness, and overall well-being (1, 2, 6, 7, 8). In this blog, we will delve into the world of interoception and its impact on pediatric occupational therapy practice.


Understanding Interoception

Interoception is a lesser-known sense that monitors internal physiological, sensory, and emotional states. It involves being aware of sensations from various body parts, such as the heart, lungs, stomach, muscles, skin, and more. This information is then processed by the brain, allowing us to identify how we feel at any given moment. In simple terms, interoception helps us answer the question, "How do I feel?" (2, 4).


Interoception and Emotional Regulation

The ability to recognize and interpret internal bodily signals is essential for emotional regulation (2, 4). Interoception provides valuable feedback about our emotional state and the situations we encounter. For example, if we feel hungry, nervous, tired, or sick, these sensations serve as important clues to our current emotions. When we notice discomfort or dysregulation within our bodies, it motivates us to take action and engage in self-regulating behaviors.


Practical Applications in Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Interoceptive awareness forms the foundation of independent self-regulation, making it a crucial skill for children to develop. As pediatric occupational therapy practitioners, we can leverage the power of interoception in our practice to achieve the following (4):


1. Enhancing Emotional Awareness: By teaching children to tune into their bodily sensations, we can help them identify and understand their emotions better.


2. Self-Regulation Strategies: Interoceptive cues can guide children towards appropriate self-regulation strategies. For example, recognizing hunger might prompt them to eat, while noticing tension could lead to relaxation techniques.


3. Promoting Mindful Practices: Encouraging mindfulness exercises can improve interoceptive awareness and aid in emotional regulation.


4. Addressing Behavioral Challenges: Interoception can shed light on the underlying causes of certain behaviors, helping us design targeted interventions.


Interoception-Based Interventions

Recent studies have highlighted the effectiveness of interventions focused on interoception:


- Condensed 8-Week Intervention: A study implementing Dr. Kelly Mahler’s "The Interoception Curriculum" showed significant improvement in interoceptive awareness among autistic students. This improvement was associated with enhanced emotional regulation (3).


- 25-Week School-Based Intervention: Another study examined the use of “The Interoception Curriculum” for autistic children in a school-based setting, showing significant improvements in interoceptive awareness and emotion regulation post-intervention (5).


Expand Your Knowledge

Interested in learning more about interoception? Integrative Education has two unique learning opportunities with Dr. Kelly Mahler, creator of the Interoception Curriculum, available in August 2023 :


1. On-demand learn at your own pace, 6 hour course: Interoception, the Eighth Sense: Impact of Regulation, Emotional Well-Being and Social Connection. Available for purchase until August 31, 2023 with 30 days of unlimited viewing from the date of purchase.


2. Live webinar, 3 hour course: A follow-up to the above course, Interoception the Eighth Sense: A Focus on Understanding and Regulating Body Signals; live course to be held on Wednesday, August 30th, 2023 and includes a recording to be released within 1 week of the event with 30 days of unlimited access.


Dr. Kelly Mahler’s website also has free resources and numerous continuing education courses to consider to support your understanding of interoception.


In Conclusion

Interoception is a powerful sense that underlies emotional regulation and self-awareness. For pediatric occupational therapists, understanding and leveraging interoception can lead to more effective and targeted interventions, ultimately promoting children's well-being and self-regulation abilities. By helping children develop this vital skill, we can empower them to navigate their emotions and achieve greater success in various aspects of their lives.


References:

  1. Craig, A. D. (2003). Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Current opinion in neurobiology, 13(4), 500-505.

  2. Critchley, H. D., & Garfinkel, S. N. (2017). Interoception and emotion. Current opinion in psychology, 17, 7-14.

  3. Hample, K., Mahler, K., & Amspacher, A. (2020). An interoception-based intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder: A pilot study. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention, 13(4), 339-352.

  4. Mahler, K. (2019). The Interoception Curriculum: A step-by-step framework for developing mindful self-regulation. Kelly Mahler.

  5. Mahler, K., Hample, K., Jones, C., Sensenig, J., Thomasco, P., & Hilton, C. (2022). Impact of an interoception-based program on emotion regulation in autistic children. Occupational therapy international, 2022.

  6. Paulus, M. P., & Stein, M. B. (2010). Interoception in anxiety and depression. Brain structure and Function, 214, 451-463.

  7. Simmons, A., Strigo, I. A., Matthews, S. C., Paulus, M. P., & Stein, M. B. (2009). Initial evidence of

a failure to activate right anterior insula during affective set-shifting in PTSD. Psychosomatic

Medicine, 71(4), 373. doi:10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181a56ed8

  1. Teicher, M. H., Samson, J. A., Anderson, C. M., & Ohashi, K. (2016). The effects of childhood

maltreatment on brain structure, function and connectivity. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 17(10),652. doi:10.1038/nrn.2016.111


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