How our 8th sense, interoception, affects toileting: a new course

Most people know about our five senses: taste, sight, smell, hearing, touch. But have you heard of the 8th sense, interoception, and its important role in toileting?   

Taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch are the five most commonly-known senses. We also have proprioception (understanding where our body is and how it moves) and vestibular (balance and spatial orientation). But there’s a lesser-known 8th sense that’s vital in toileting – and that is interoception.  

Understanding more about this 8th sense can help us to understand the challenges that some children experience when it comes to achieving a key developmental milestone like toilet training. 

We are delighted to be running a new course aimed at all healthcare professionals supporting toileting in children with additional needs, to give you a richer understanding of this 8th sense and enable you to support children and young people who have additional needs with their toileting journey. 

Learn more about interoception

Join ERIC’s online course ‘Interoception and sensory challenges with toileting’ (30th November 2023 9.30am-1pm via Zoom webinar) led by Paediatric Continence Nurse Vikki Stain and Paediatric Occupational Therapist, Sammy Randall. 

The half-day session – costing £50 per person – introduces interoception and how it relates to achieving developmental milestones for children and young people with additional needs. 

Our course objectives are: 

  • To understand what interoception is and how it relates to child development.  
  • To understand the importance of goal setting and outcome measurement when working with children with toileting issues.  
  • To increase awareness of the assessment tools and treatment approaches available.  
  • To be able to critically analyse and discuss the current state of the evidence and the barriers and facilitators to assessment and treatment of childhood toileting problems.  

We will also hold a Q&A session.  

Unable to watch live? There will be access to the recording for 1 month – but you’ll still need to register. All details can be found by following the link below.

Read on to learn some basics about interoception… 

What is interoception?

Interoception is our 8th sense which responds to signals and sensations from inside of our bodies. It’s how we feel and interpret the signals from our internal body organs. It is understanding what our body is telling us.  

In daily terms for us, that could be understanding that we are hungry because our stomach is growling; or recognising that we are anxious because our heart rate has increased. In toileting terms, interoception is knowing we need to go to the toilet because of – for example – the feeling that the bladder is full. 

Children can begin to respond to their physical needs if they understand and notice how their body feels. This includes learning toileting skills. 

How does interoception work?

Young children gradually learn to notice and understand the messages they receive from their bodies, just as they learn to understand sounds and speech. All children are different and some find it easier than others to learn and understand these sensations and what they mean.  

Autistic children with sensory difficulties may have more difficulty and it can take them longer. These children may need more help and prompts to achieve a reliable awareness of toileting needs and become clean and dry. They do usually achieve this.

Tips on interoception and children’s toileting

Is it necessary to wait until children show signs that they recognise they are weeing or pooing?  

Current thinking suggests not. There is evidence that it is after learning to use the potty and toilet, and having developed a toileting routine, that some children learn to recognise their body signals of a full bladder and bowel. 

Learning how to link the signals from their bodies with their bowel and bladder actions can be really helpful for children.  

Here are our expert tips for including this as part of your child’s learning process to get clean and dry: 

  • TEACH your child how their body makes wee and poo, and how it tells them when it needs to come out.  
  • ASK ‘Can you feel any wee or poo that wants to go in the toilet?’, rather than ‘Do you want to go to the toilet?’ 
  • SHOW them pictures and videos on how the body, bowel and bladder works – it can help them to make sense of why we use the toilet, in a fun way.  
  • INCLUDE body awareness to help children understand the messages from their bowel and bladder.  
  • IDENTIFY if children are having difficulty learning interoception messages. A sensory assessment may be helpful.  

Read our tips on interoception and children with autism and interoception and older children and teenagers

We look forward to welcoming you on this new course to learn much more about the 8th sense, interoception, and its place in children’s toileting.  

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