How do you know you’re hungry, or tired, or cold or spitting mad? These sensations are sent to the brain by your internal organs and other body parts – often accompanied by emotions. We refer to our sensing of things happening in our bodies as Interoception. Like sight, smell, sound and taste, interoception is a sensory experience, needed by us to control our wellbeing and respond adequately.
Children who might not have developed this sense often struggle to know when to go to the toilet or when they are hungry, or how (and why) they are feeling. We pick up on our emotions by sensing the body’s reaction to events. For example, feeling a tightness in our stomachs and a warm glow might indicate that we are angry. An increased heartbeat and tension in our muscles tell us we’re fearful. If we are not tuned in to these sensations, it becomes more difficult to tell when we are OK or not OK. Children might struggle to regulate their emotions because they can’t correctly interpret the signals from the body.
Children (and some adults) may be over-responsive (hypersensitive), under-responsive (hyposensitive) or a combination of both to their physical and emotional state. Some may not know how to verbally label the information their brains receive from the interoceptive sense. They may not be receiving enough data, which makes things confusing or if they are receiving too much information the sensations can become overwhelming.
Children with hypersensitivity to interoceptive input may find that everyday sensations like hunger or having to use the bathroom are distracting or painful. This may result in their becoming preoccupied with the internal sensations and distracted from whatever they are doing. They can easily show extreme reactions to certain sensations (for example, hunger, temperature, etc), are thought to be overly emotional, seemingly anxious for no good reason and tend to worry over small events. They may have frequent meltdowns or display other behaviours viewed as inappropriate. They also have difficulty focusing due to preoccupation with internal stimuli.
Other children may be less sensitive to interoceptive messages. This is when they seem to not be able to pick up on internal sensations. They may not be able to respond to the body’s sensation or feeling in a functional way. These include children who seem to have a very high pain threshold, act out without warning, struggle with potty training, constipation or bedwetting, cannot tell if they are hungry or full or cold or hot.
If a child appears to have these issues, it is understood to be a sensory processing concern and other sensory irregularities might accompany poorly developed interoception. For example, a child might be sensitive to touch or smell or bright lights or loud, shrill sounds. Because there are other senses in addition to the better known basic five, such a child might also struggle with balance and coordination (needing the senses of proprioception and vestibular).
Helping to develop this sense usually requires the assistance of a trained professional but activities like yoga, mindfulness, breathing exercises, deep pressure input (e.g. massage) and vestibular stimulating activities (slow rocking, rolling, swinging) might also be helpful. Heavy load activities are also helpful, such as carrying grocery bags from the car; mowing grass, vacuuming, jumping on a trampoline, wheelbarrow races etc.
A good way of helping all children develop an interoceptive sense is to let them practice recognising input as it happens. For example, ask your child how her body feels before eating or drinking, when the weather is hot or cold, before using the bathroom, after exercise and so on. Encourage him to explore and name internal feelings of hunger, thirst, heat, cold, a full bladder or bowel, an increased heartbeat and so on. The more your help your child feel and recognise these sensations, the better able he will be to act on them independently and appropriately.
Over the past couple of decades, Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) has closely followed research on the possible role sugar plays in ADHD-type behaviours. The findings over the years began to convince us that sugar is not a huge no-no as far as children is concerned. While an overdose of sugary foods, typically due to a birthday party, might cause a child to become overactive and emotional, sugar was not seen as THE cause of continual challenging behaviours.
Now a new study has been released showing that high intake of sugar may, after all, be part of the causes of several disorders with behaviour symptoms.
The research, out today from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and published in Evolution and Human Behavior, shows evidence that fructose, a component of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and uric acid (derived from fructose) increases the risk of challenging behaviours.
Fructose, by lowering energy in cells, triggers a ‘foraging response’ similar to what occurs in starvation,” said lead author Richard Johnson, MD, professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
A foraging response stimulates risk taking, impulsivity, novelty seeking, rapid decision making, and aggressiveness to aid the securing of food as a survival response. Overactivation of this process from excess sugar intake may cause impulsive behaviour that could range from ADHD, to bipolar disorder or even aggression.
“While the fructose pathway was meant to aid survival, fructose intake has skyrocketed during the last century and may be in overdrive due to the high amounts of sugar that are in the current Western diet,” Johnson adds. Excessive intake of fructose is due to the high amounts of refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup in the Western diet.
Johnson notes, “We do not blame aggressive behavior on sugar, but rather note that it may be one contributor.”
The full title of the publication is “Fructose and uric acid as drivers of a hyperactive foraging response: A clue to behavioral disorders associated with impulsivity or mania?” by Richard J. Johnson, William L. Wilson, Sondra T. Bland, Miguel A. Lanaspa. Published in ‘Evolution and Human Behavior’.
In summary, less is more when it comes to helping young children learn new vocabulary.
Most books today are flooded with colourful pictures. The reason for this is to entice adults to buy the books. However, a recent study by psychologists at the University of Sussex shows that having more than one illustration per page results in poorer word learning among pre-schoolers.
The findings, published in Infant and Child Development, present a simple solution to parents and nursery teachers for some of the challenges of pre-school education and could help in the development of learning materials for young children.
Researcher Zoe Flack said: “Luckily, children like hearing stories, and adults like reading them to children. But children who are too young to read themselves don’t know where to look because they are not following the text. This has a dramatic impact on how well they learn new words from stories.”
The researchers read storybooks to three-year-olds with one illustration at a time (the right-hand page was illustrated, the left-hand page was blank) or with two illustrations at a time (both pages had illustrations), with illustrations introducing the child to new objects that were named on the page.
They found that children who were read stories with only one illustration at a time learned twice as many words as children who were read stories with two or more illustrations.
In a follow-up experiment, researchers added a simple hand swipe gesture to guide the children to look at the correct illustration before the page was read to them. They found this gesture was effective in helping children to learn words when they saw two illustrations across the page.
Zoe, who has written a blog post about the research, said: “This suggests that simply guiding children’s attention to the correct page helps them focus on the right illustrations, and this in turn might help them concentrate on the new words.
“Our findings fit well with Cognitive Load Theory, which suggests that learning rates are affected by how complicated a task is. In this case, by giving children less information at once, or guiding them to the correct information, we can help children learn more words.”
Co-author Dr Jessica Horst, said: “Other studies have shown that adding ‘bells and whistles’ to storybooks like flaps to lift and anthropomorphic animals decreases learning. But this is the first study to examine how decreasing the number of illustrations increases children’s word learning from storybooks.”
She added: “This study also has important implications for the e-Book industry. Studies on the usefulness of teaching vocabulary from e-Books are mixed, but our study suggests one explanation is that many studies with e-Books are only presenting one illustration at a time.”
The study is one of many being carried out at Sussex in The WORD Lab, a research group that focuses on how children learn and acquire language. Previous research has shown children learn more words from hearing the same stories repeated and from hearing stories at nap time.