Sensory Series – Interoception

Introduction to Interoception

Internal

After covering the five well known senses, and the two that are slowly coming into general awareness – it is necessary to move onto the senses that are less well known. Arguably interoception could also cover some of the other, future posts but I think that it can be easier to separate it somewhat.

Interoception is the sense of the physiological condition of one’s own body – there is some debate over what exactly this entails but for the sake of this post it will include such things as the ability to sense hunger, thirst, need for the toilet, and need for sleep. There are most likely others that I have forgotten to mention – and areas such as pain and temperature will be covered under their own posts and senses.

Interoception is another sense that cannot be easily divided into hyper and hypo, although you could certainly argue that there are some symptoms that fall within these two categories. Disruptions in interoception can also have huge impacts on day-to-day living, especially within the area of self-care.

Some things you might see which are indications of a disorder in the interoception sense include:

  • Difficulty in or inability to determine whether they are hungry or not. This can go from one extreme to another – ranging from the individual who never feels hunger through to the individual who always feels hungry.
    • Frequent complaints of hunger
    • Complaints of stomach pain
    • Shows lack of interest in food during meal times
    • Only eats at designated meal times
    • May become faint or light-headed due to lack of food intake
    • Can have vitamin or mineral deficiencies
  • Difficulty in or inability to determine whether they are thirsty or not. Again, this can range from always feeling thirsty through to never feeling thirsty.
    • Dry lips, complaints of sore throat
    • Lack of urination
    • When given water, gulps it down due to time between consuming water
    • Always wants a drink, will access water as frequently as possible.
  • Difficulty in or inability to determine whether or when they need to use the toilet.
    • Frequent visits to the toilet.
    • Reluctance to get off of the toilet once sat.
    • Frequent wetting or messing of underwear during the day as well as night.
    • Wets or messes underwear when focused on another task.
    • Reluctance to drink water as it might increase urination.
    • Goes to the bathroom at set, regular intervals to avoid accidents.
  • Difficulty in or inability to determine whether or when they need to sleep.
    • Will stay awake for very long periods; 24 hours or more
    • Remains in bed for excessively prolonged periods
    • Frequent complaints of tiredness
    • Often “misses” the point of tiredness  and stays awake beyond it to hyperactivity
    • Will not stay in bed, only sleeps for short periods of time

 

As is evident from this list, these difficulties can have far reaching consequences if strategies are not put in place to help. As with all the differences in senses, these are not symptoms that are confined to a certain part of the spectrum and any autistic person may have difficulties with interoception. This can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, illness, and damage to the self-esteem of those who do not have someone who can help them set up a schedule or manage their day-to-day life, but otherwise live independently. These same issues can arise for someone who does have someone who can help with those things, but who doesn’t understand what interoception is.

More research is being done into this area, and the other areas covered across the next few posts – but as of yet these senses are very much under-researched; not just in the field of autism but across the board.

Until next time.


 

Disclaimer: The opinions and information provided in this post are my own, and based on personal, educational, and work-based experience. They do not reflect the opinions of any of the authors of the content referenced in this post. I am not affiliated or supported by any organisation, and this is meant to be an educational series of posts. The information posted here is not a substitute for advice and information provided by your own GP, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist or other professional in the field of autism, and should not be taken as such.

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