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Interoception

Information and resources to support education and care services in the practical application of interoception.

What is interoception?

Interoception is a pre‐requisite skill for self‐management and self‐regulation. It provides the tools to know when we are developing emotional reactions and the skills to be in control of these reactions.

Interoception is an internal sensory system where the internal physical and emotional states of the body are noticed, recognised, identified and responded to. 

Interoception skills are needed for functions such as knowing when to go to the toilet, being aware that you are becoming angry or upset and being able to manage your emotions proactively. 

Children and young people will struggle with their own emotions and social interactions if they have not developed interoception skills. Even just being around others may be difficult for them to manage.

Children and young people with well-developed interoception are able to use both logic and emotions to respond to their environment. Those without tend to rely on logic and have to carefully think through their possible responses to each situation. 

Thinking through each situation long term can be tiring and contribute to overload, shutdown, meltdowns, anxiety and depression.

Benefits of teaching interoception

  • Helps children and young people connect to and learn to understand their bodies and emotions.
  • Helps children and young people develop a sense of belonging. Without interoception, social skills are just the application of rules and not a meaningful way of interacting.
  • Classrooms where interoception is being taught have decreasing behavioural challenges over the school year and those where it is not have static or increasing behavioural challenges (school wide behaviour reporting analysis).

Models of interoception in education and care settings

Interoception programs can be included:

  • in individual classes
  • across the whole site
  • for specific groups needing intensive support
  • with a dedicated interoception room.​

Models of interoception for in class teaching

Including interoception into the class doesn't require additional resourcing. It is used as part of quality differentiated teaching practice. 

2-3 short sessions a day

Sessions are more beneficial after breaks, for example first thing in the morning, after recess and after lunch.

2 to 3 short sessions a day with each session covering 1 or 2 interoception activities.

Activities are done twice.

After the first time children and young people are asked where they felt the difference or what they felt. Then they are guided where or what to feel and asked to focus on that for the second time the activity is done.

Multiple short sessions a day

Sessions are done after every transition and when children and young people need refocusing. 

Multiple short sessions a day, each session covering one or two interoception activities.

Activities are done twice.

After the first time children and young children are asked where they felt the difference or what they felt. Then they are guided where or what to feel and asked to focus on that for the second time the activity is done. 

One or two long sessions a day

Sessions are done in classrooms where children and young people arrive dysregulated and struggle all day.

1 or 2 long sessions a day, each lasting 15-20 minutes.

Interoception activities are directed as a sequence of movements and actions to focus on specific muscles, breathing, temperature or pulse. 

What is an interoception activity?

An interoceptive activity focuses on creating and noticing an internal change. They can focus on any of the following:

  • muscles
  • breathing
  • temperature
  • pulse
  • touch.

People with atypical interoception can't identify mood changes or self‐regulate their body. Interoception activities teach us to connect with these. 

Structure of an interoception activity

Interoception activities focus on a particular part of the body for at least 30 seconds.

  • You feel change in your body by labelling the movement and part of the body involved, for example toes, stretch and curl up or curl under.
  • Repeat the same activity
  • You are then encouraged to identify a change in your body, for example streched and relaxed.

Interoception tools

Interoception support plan

The interoception support plan HSP421 (DOC 170KB) is completed by the education or care service, family and the child or young person (where possible). It provides an understanding of any interoception issues and supports the development of individualised strategies to increase interoception.

Ready to learn kit

The ready to learn kit supports sites to apply interoception and strategies. It helps to include interoception in classroom activities.

This kit includes the interoception 101 and 201 activity guides and all forms, resources and tools. 

Interoception 301 activity guide

The interoception 301 activity guide supports interoception in secondary schools. 

Interoception parent and caregiver booklet

The interoception parent and caregiver booklet includes interoception activities that can be done at home.

Interoception guide

The interoception guide (PDF 610KB) is a summary of interoception, activities and benefits.

Interoception activity plan

An interoception activity plan HSP422 (PDF 74KB) is used to plan interoception activities into daily class activities.

Interoception personal best tracking sheet

An interoception personal best tracking sheet HSP423 (PDF 116 KB) is used  to record personal bests for interoception activities.

Engagement observation record

The engagement observation record HSP424 (Word 123KB) collects data on the level of engagement through a short observation.

Tracking levels of engagement useful to monitor the effectiveness of strategies. 

Interoception room record

The interoception room record HSP425 (Word 114KB) collects information to evaluate when children and young people are using the interoception room.

It can show patterns for children and young people using the room.

It can show if professional development is needed for staff. 

Interoception in the Australian Curriculum

Interoception in the Australian Curriculum (PDF 150KB) shows how interoception can be included in the curriculum to support learning.

Other neurodiversity resources to support interoception

Sensory

Many children and young people live with sensory processing differences (SPD). This makes it difficult to process and act on information received from the senses. Most children with SPD display elements of extremes where they have sensory overload or seek stimulation.

It's important to understand their sensory needs and implement strategies to enable a positive experience in education.

A sensory overview support plan HSP431 (DOC 389KB) is developed by the education or care service, family and the child or young person (where possible). This helps to understand the sensory issues and develop strategies to reduce sensory seeking or avoidance.

Regulation scale

The regulation scale HSP432 (DOC 182KB) is used to show that what happens around you can impact your mood. It tells us about body signals and how to respond to the signals to manage mood changes. 

The regulation scale guide HSP432A helps to complete the regulation scale.

The child or young person should be involved in developing this, with input from parents and staff.

The scale changes as the child or young person gets better interoceptive awareness and expands their vocabulary (non-verbal or verbal). It's designed to be used in conjunction with interoception activities.

Some children and young people will need teaching to develop emotional regulation. Some may struggle to manage mood changes with a minor increase in stress levels like new learning, or trying something different. Minor stress can cause a ‘flight, fight, freeze’ response.  Support these children and young people to know the difference between feeling slightly challenged and feeling unsafe so they can respond differently.

These are some examples of regulation scales:

Understanding Behaviour

Traditional behaviour management looks at what to do after behaviour has occurred. It doesn't look at the purpose of the behaviour.

Behaviour can often be prevented by making modifications to the environment, people, places, time or activities and teaching a better way to get the message across.

It’s important to look at the reason for the behaviour before we can prevent it happening. This includes:

  • identifying dangerous, damaging and disruptive behaviours. Think about behaviours that are just annoying or irritating to others
  • investigating what triggers the behaviour. When and where the behaviour is most likely and least likely to occur?
  • looking at what happens after the behaviour.

Then we can identify the purpose of the behaviour and teach appropriate alternative behaviours and new skills.

The understanding behaviour template HSP 433 (PDF 456KB) shows the reason a behaviour is happening and to plan and start a replacement behaviour. It’s used for a single behaviour. Education staff, families and the child or young person need to complete this together.

It includes a most likely/least likely table which shows possible triggers for the behaviour. It records what is happening when the behaviour is most likely to occur and comparing it to when it’s least likely to occur. It’s important to identify when the behaviour doesn't happen. It gives useful clues to find the purpose of the behaviour. Knowing the least likely times for the behaviour can help to show the best teaching environment for the child or young person.

Wellness, stress and distress questionnaire

The wellness, stress and distress questionnaire HSP426 (WSDQ) (Excel 159KB) is an emotional and behavioural screening questionnaire for children and young people.

It shows the perspective of children and young people and their teachers.

There are 5 scales in the WSDQ including:

  • emotional symptoms
  • conduct problems
  • hyperactivity/inattention
  • peer relationships
  • prosocial behaviour

The WSDQ is used for assessment, evaluation, research and screening.

Professional development and training

The Disability and Complex Needs team provide education on interoception and practical strategies to use interoception activities in classroom activities. They can help develop strategies for children and young people with low levels of interoception.

Senior advisors are able to visit your site to deliver professional development and provide ongoing support.

Refer to the Health Support Training webpage for further information and contact details. 

Resources

Support plans

Planning and management tools

Research

Contact

Disability and complex needs team

Phone: 8226 0515
Email: education.health [at] sa.gov.au