How to teach interoceptive awareness
When supporting children with poor awareness, you need to consider all stages. Some children (and adults!) might be great at noticing, naming and understanding feelings, but not be able to understand the impact or manage. Other children might need help initially with noticing. Children with language processing difficulties may need more support with naming both sensations and feelings.
Each child is different. This interoceptive tracking sheet page is a useful free assessment tool to help identify which stage a child might need help with for each sense.
Noticing interoceptive sensations
Noticing sensations is best done in real time when the sensation is present. So, if it’s a hot day and the child has been running around with their jumper on and their cheeks are hot, they can touch their cheeks. Or, hot and cold water can be used to teach children the difference between the two sensations.
Internal sensations like hunger or needing the toilet can be trickier to teach. For some children, video can be a great tool to help them to see what their body might do when they are feeling sensations. This only works for externally shown movements, like jiggling about if they need the toilet, yawing when tired, or grimacing if they are uncomfortable.
Strategies to support vocabulary will be different for each child. Children with specific language difficulties or autism may need extra help from their speech and language therapist (SALT). The SALT can advise on specific strategies that will meet their needs, which might include sign or symbols.
Adults can reinforce sensations when they occur. So, if the child hurts themselves give language like that looks sore, or it hurts. The adults can also give perspective to how big the hurt is – so that was a big hurt, or a little hurt. And, give language for the position on the body, such as you have hurt your leg.
It can also sometimes help if adults externalise the sensations they are feeling. So, my tummy feels a bit sore, I think I am hungry. Or, I’m yawing I think I am tired.
Linking sensations feelings
Linking to feelings often requires good emotional vocabulary. This might need to be taught. Mirrors or videos can be used to look at their own face and body when naming emotions. Games like charades where children have to name the emotion can also be fun. There are picture cards available and children’s books and Disney films are great for identifying emotions! Some children will need help from their speech and language therapist as well.