The internal senses are the Vestibular system, Proprioception and Interoception which should be integrated with each other and the external senses. Because these senses are internal they are "hidden" and we don't take much notice of them until they are not functioning at an optimal level.
The Internal Senses
I introduced the internal senses in the Neuroscience and listening programmes blog. This post describes each of them in greater detail and how they affect people in different ways.
The vestibular system -
The vestibular system has many functions including;
· Spatial orientation
· Response to movement
· Gravitational security so it is involved in nearly everything we do.
It is also strongly integrated with reflexes and the visual sense especially through the vestibulo-ocular reflex. Sometimes migraines can occur when the visual and vestibular systems are not working together. Travel sickness can also be a sign of these senses not working together.
The vestibular is also linked to the auditory sense as these nerves join in the auditory canal to form the 8th cranial nerve of the brain. If the auditory sense is disrupted, such as in ear infections, the vestibular sense is also likely to be affected.
If the visual and vestibular systems are not well integrated many tasks will be very difficult.
The vestibular guides our eyes, hands, feet and various mental and physical functions in time and space. We need this for our eyes to fixate and sequentially track letters, words and sentences; to be able to write on the horizontal in a neat fashion; to pronounce words accurately as we speak.
The vestibular fine-tunes all motor responses that make our movements coordinated and balanced .If it is not working well, we show delayed speech; impaired ability to walk; difficulty tying shoelaces, buttoning buttons; holding and using pens and pencils. It also makes it difficult to concentrate and remember what is seen and heard and toilet training and night time dryness may take longer.
The vestibular also has a compass function. It allows us to be aware of spatial relationships such as right and left, up and down, front and back, east and west and north and south. If the compass system isn’t working efficiently, the brain has to compensate by finding methods such as wearing a watch on one hand.
The vestibular acts as a timing mechanism. If it isn’t functioning as it should, a child may have difficulty in learning to tell time and sensing time. Often, so-called dyslexic learners do not understand the difference in meaning of before and after and can’t sense whether a minute, an hour or several hours have gone by.
The vestibular sense is involved in so many human functions, I have also written a booklet with more information which you can get free by sending me an email –
Interoception helps us understand our body’s internal sensations. This is the sense that helps us know if we’re hungry, thirsty, hot, cold, or any other feeling that begins within our bodies.
It also helps with emotional regulation, as some of our emotions are linked to physical sensations. For example, think about how feeling anxious can cause a racing heart, a dry mouth, sweating, tingling, and other physical sensations. Interoception helps you understand these physical signs and regulate emotions, such as if you begin feeling anxious, you can also begin to take steps to feel calm, like taking deep breaths or going for a walk.
Interoceptive receptors inside our organs and in our skin that send messages to the brain. Our brain learns what these messages mean and how to appropriately address them. We begin to understand the most basic messages (such as hunger and thirst) from birth, while understanding emotions and more complex needs may develop at a later age.
Some examples of interoception include;
· Feeling hungry or thirsty: We feel the sensation of hungry (sometimes accompanied by a rumbling stomach or shakiness) and respond by craving food that will satisfy the hunger. We feel thirsty and look for something to drink.
· Using the bathroom: We can feel the sensation that the bladder is full and use the bathroom in appropriate time to relieve this feeling. Interoception plays a crucial role in potty training, as it helps baby to know when they need to go.
· Cooling off on a hot day: We feel our body warm up, heart rate increase, and the sensation of thirst. In response to these sensations, we recognize we are hot and we may drink some cold water, find shade, or go inside.
· Feeling afraid: We feel our heart rate, our breathing change, and our muscles tense as a sign that we are afraid. Sometimes recognizing fear can be good because it helps us avoid danger.
· Sensing tiredness: We feel our energy level drop and know to slow down and get some sleep
Difficulties with interoception can look very different, but they are all caused by an inability to understand the body’s internal signals. Children with interoceptive issues may not know when they’re in pain, when they’re hungry, or when they’re tired. If they struggle with identifying these needs, they may have trouble regulating their energy levels and may feel sensations inaccurately so may take longer to potty train or they may wear jumpers on hot days.
In 1906Charles Sherrington coined the term proprioception (perception of one’s own).Proprioception, also called kinesthesia, is the body’s ability to sense its location, movements, posture and actions. It also involves knowing the amount of pressure to apply in different situations such as patting animals, holding a pencil and passing objects to another person. Proprioception relies on different types of tiny receptors densely packed in the muscles and tendons It’s the reason we’re able to move freely without consciously thinking about our environment.
Proprioception plays an important role in self-regulation, co-ordination, speech and paying attention. It must also work closely with the vestibular system.
Examples of proprioception include being able to walk or kick without looking at your feet, being able touch your nose with your eyes closed, using fingers to count behind your back, walking on a beam without watching your feet and writing or drawing on paper without putting holes in the page.
Just like the other senses responses to Proprioception can be over responsive or under-responsive.
Activities to build the internal senses:
· Jumping on a trampoline
· Rolling over a swiss ball
· Using monkey bars
· Wheel barrow walking
· Crawling through boxes / tunnels
· Obstacle courses
· Body socks
· Jumping jacks / push ups /
· Heavy work such as carrying groceries, buckets of water, pushing a wheelbarrow, Digging, raking leaves, sweeping…