Some parts of this blog were adapted from Understood.org
A common trait in autism is the fact that while many of us want to meet our basic needs to be well, we often cannot recognize the need to do so. This process is called interception. It can come across to others that we are lazy and don’t care about our basic needs, when in fact we just don’t know that we need to take care of it.
Interception is known as the eighth and lesser-known sense. These are receptors inside your organs, including your skin. These receptors send information about the inside of your body to your brain. This helps regulate our vital functions like body temperature, hunger, thirst, digestion, and heart rate. Interception helps you understand and feel what’s going on inside your body. For instance, you know if your heart is beating fast or if you need to breathe more deeply. You’re able to tell if you need to use the bathroom. You know if you’re hungry, full, hot, cold, thirsty, nauseated, itchy, or ticklish.
As such, those with autism with sensory processing issues, the brain may have trouble making sense of that information. They may not be able to tell when they’re feeling pain or when their bladder is full. An itch may feel like pain or pain may feel ticklish. Additionally, those who struggle with the interoceptive sense can also have trouble “feeling” their emotions. They may not be as tuned in to the body cues that help interpret emotion. Without being able to feel and interpret those body sensations, it’s harder to clearly identify the emotion. For instance, individuals that struggle may not “feel” fear because they don’t recognize that their muscles are tense, their breathing is shallow, and their heart is racing.
Having trouble with this sense can also make self-regulation a challenge. When you’re able to tell that you’re thirsty, you know to take a drink. When you can feel that your bladder is full, you know to use the bathroom. When you feel a sense of frustration, you know to explain what’s troubling you.
For some people with autism, this system doesn’t work well and they can’t regulate certain responses. Some individuals may experience bedwetting. Or they may not know why they’re feeling off and can have meltdowns. Kids who struggle with these things may not be able to identify the real source of their discomfort.
Kids who are sensory seekers may crave interoceptive input. They may move quickly because breathing fast feels right to them. They may not eat or drink as much as other kids because being hungry and thirsty feels comfortable to them. But for autistic individuals with sensory processing issues can react in other ways, too. Some kids may:
- Find interoceptive input irritating. Those who are hypersensitive to sensory input may overreact to interoceptive sensations. For instance, they may eat more than other individuals to avoid feeling hunger pangs. They may also use the bathroom more often than necessary because they don’t like the way a full bladder feels.
- Respond inappropriately to interoceptive input. Kids who are under-responsive to sensory input may not feel or respond to sensations when they should. They may take longer than other children to learn to use the toilet or have more frequent accidents. They may not eat as often as others because they may not feel hunger or thirst.
Trouble with interception isn’t as well-known as other sensory processing issues. Experts are still learning what techniques can help those who struggle with it. Some experts think that mindfulness activities like meditation can help kids be more aware of interoceptive sensations in their bodies.
Heavy work and a sensory diet may be helpful as well. But helping one really begins with knowing about treatment options and what to do if you’re concerned your child may have sensory processing issues.