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What Are the Hidden Senses?

Moira Pena, BA, BScOT, MOT Reg. (Ont)

April 1, 2023

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Question

What are the hidden senses?

Answer

The Hidden Senses

  • Vestibular System
    • Sense of body position & movement
  • Proprioceptive System
    • Joint & muscle sense
  • Interoception System
    • Sense of internal organs

Vestibular System. The vestibular system is a sense of body position and movement. The vestibular system tells you if you are moving forward or backward, moving in circles, are upside down, how fast you are moving, and if you are accelerating or decelerating. It gives you information about balance. If your vestibular system is not functioning as effectively as you would like and every time that your feet leave the ground, you feel like you are unsafe or going to fall, you are going to be irritable and cranky. Additionally, think about how many kids spin, go upside down, or tilt their heads in a certain way to get vestibular input. The vestibular system is the master sense because it is connected to a sense of safety. 

Proprioceptive System. "Proprio" means property, "ception" means feeling, and combined that is your joint and muscle sense. This system tells you where your body parts are in space without you having to look at them. For example, some kids do not have to look where their hands are when putting on a backpack, while others do. We can also think of a stair example. Kids may need to look at their feet when going up and down, or they either press too hard or stomp. Again, this could be misinterpreted as a child misbehaving or being loud on purpose.

Interoception System. Interoception is the sense of internal organs and the recognition of emotion. We all have sensory preferences or sensory quirks, and some can have severe dysfunction. The important part is that sensory processing helps us feel or have an interoceptive awareness. I am always nervous when I present, but my body reinforces that because my heart is beating rapidly, I am sweating, and I am speaking in a certain way, but many people struggle with what their body is telling them. For example, many kids have difficulty identifying the feeling of needing to go to the bathroom. Think about those who struggle with toilet training. Sensory processing is very important not only for our physiological functioning but also for our emotional functioning. Another example of interoception is how you know you are attracted to someone. Feelings of love are automatic in most, but some people need to think about it. We can help a child identify cues like a relaxed heart rate and a smiling face to help them to identify their emotions.

 

This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course, Towards A Better Understanding Of Self-Regulation And BEST Strategies In Partnership With Moira Peña Sensory Workshops, by Moira Pena, BA, BScOT, MOT Reg. (Ont).


moira pena

Moira Pena, BA, BScOT, MOT Reg. (Ont)

Moira Peña, BScOT, MOT, OT Reg.(Ont.) is an experienced occupational therapist working with children and youth on the autism spectrum at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. She is an Expert Hub Team member of the  ECHO Ontario Autism Program which aims to further develop pediatricians, school psychologists, and teachers’ skills to best support autistic children and youth and their families. A published researcher, she has presented nationally and internationally to parents, teachers, pediatricians, occupational therapy practitioners, and other health care professionals. Moira is the proud creator and host of Holland Bloorview's Autism Summit and an Authorized Provider of Professional Development by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).


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