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  • Writer's pictureAmy Duffy-Barnes

Understanding How Proprioception and Interoception Affect the Autistic Population




Proprioception and interoception are two lesser-known sensory systems that play crucial roles in our daily lives. While often overshadowed by the five senses, these sensory systems are essential for body awareness, movement control, and the perception of internal bodily sensations. In the autistic population, deficits in proprioception and interoception can significantly impact daily functioning and well-being. In this article, we will explore these sensory systems and shed light on how their deficits affect autistic individuals.

Proprioception, often referred to as the "sixth sense," is the ability to sense the position, movement, and orientation of our body in space. It involves receptors located in our muscles, joints, and tendons that provide constant feedback to our brains. Proprioceptive input allows us to perform coordinated movements, maintain balance, and navigate our environment accurately.

In the autistic population, proprioception deficits are commonly observed. Individuals may struggle with body awareness, motor coordination, and difficulties in judging force and pressure. This can result in challenges with tasks such as handwriting, tying shoelaces, or participating in team sports that require precise movements. These deficits can lead to clumsiness, delayed motor milestones, and difficulties with fine and gross motor skills.

Interoception, on the other hand, is the sense of the internal state of our body. It involves perceiving and interpreting sensations such as hunger, thirst, pain, temperature, heartbeat, and emotional states. Interoceptive signals provide vital information that helps regulate our physiological and emotional well-being.

Many autistic individuals experience interoception deficits, which can manifest in various ways. Difficulties in recognizing and interpreting bodily sensations can make it challenging to identify hunger, thirst, or the need for a bathroom break. Emotional regulation may also be affected, as it can be challenging to discern and manage internal emotional states. The body may be hypersensitive to various signals but be unable to interpret them. Interoceptive deficits can contribute to sensory sensitivities, digestive issues, sleep disturbances, and difficulties with self-regulation.

Understanding proprioception and interoception is a crucial component of enhancing self-awareness and understanding in the autistic population. Occupational therapists and sensory integration techniques can play a significant role in addressing these challenges. Therapy can involve activities that provide deep pressure input, joint compression, and specific exercises to improve body awareness and motor skills. For enhancing interception I recommend Kelly Mahler's books and programs: https://www.kelly-mahler.com/ Additionally, with the help of neurodiversity-affirming mental health therapists (we highly recommend autistic therapists), learning somatic strategies, mindfulness practices, and body-based interventions will help people develop interoceptive awareness and better regulate their emotions.

In conclusion, proprioception and interoception deficits can significantly impact autistic individuals. By recognizing and addressing these challenges, autistic individuals can begin the process of developing better body awareness (in turn allowing them to more accurately interpret the body's signals), motor skills, emotional regulation, and overall well-being.

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