5 Reasons We Need the Interoception Curriculum in Schools

Hi everyone. Kelly Mahler, occupational therapist. I want to talk about five reasons why we need the Interoception Curriculum in the schools right now.
 

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Reason 1: It Provides a Framework for Curiosity

Reason number one is all about the amazing push for social emotional learning in our schools. This is happening across many different countries around the world. This whole emphasis on building social emotional learning, to me, is really important. Where many of our existing social emotional learning curricula or programs fall short is incorporating the interoception science. We know that interoception is the neurobiological foundation for many of the skills that are often targeted in these SEL or social emotional learning programs. For example, many of these programs target helping students to identify their emotions, to regulate their emotions, to identify the feelings or emotions of other people; all of those skills require interoception. Interoception is the underlying foundation to successfully achieve those skills. We need to lay that foundation, the interoception foundation, in order for those SEL programs to be effective. The Interoception Curriculum is that step one, that foundation for social emotional learning programs.

Reason 2: It Empowers Self Regulation

Reason number two is all about the Interoception Curriculum and how it empowers self-regulation, and it does so in a way that is in line with current neuroscience understanding. We know that our body sensations, those interoceptive sensations, are vital to helping us understand how we feel and what our body needs for comfort, for safety, and for regulation in the moment. If we want to empower our students with self-regulation, we need to start with interoception. I see so many IEP goals that have really great intentions; the student will independently seek out a break or the student will use a help card. Those skills are wonderful, but they also require an underlying interoceptive piece. You need to be able to identify in your body that something’s off and that it’s probably a good time to request a break. Or, you have to be able to identify in your body that you may be struggling right now, you might need help, and it’s time to use a help card. So those interoceptive sensations are what provide clues to needing the break, needing the help card and so forth. We need to start with interoception, and the Interoception Curriculum helps us do just that.

Reason 3: It Provides a Framework for Compassion and Curiosity

Reason number three that we need interoception in the schools right now is because it provides a framework of compassion, curiosity, and a way to nurture our students’ success both in the classroom and outside of the classroom; even when they graduate, when they leave us, when they become adults. I got into education because I love working with children. I wanted to be in a field where I could inspire curiosity and learning about the world and about themselves. That is what the Interoception Curriculum is all about. It really provides a framework for us to be more curious about our students’ inner experience, to help validate their unique experience in the world. This framework is providing such a nice shift away from these compliance-based models that many of our educational institutions are based on right now, where we have this hierarchy of power and it’s all about controlling the students and modifying their behaviors. This shift towards interoception, to me, is really exciting because it’s honoring each student and who they are individually, and really trying to get at the heart of why they might be struggling to participate in the classroom. That’s what the Interoception Curriculum is all about. It’s about compassion, it’s about curiosity, it’s about honoring that student’s unique inner experience in helping them to discover that.

Reason 4: It Promotes Positive Mental Health

The fourth reason we need the Interoception Curriculum in the schools right now is all about mental health. Did you know that interoception extremes, regardless of the extreme, whether it’s too big or too small, are connected to almost every single mental health diagnosis that exists? That is a profound finding. Interoception extremes are connected to almost every single mental health diagnosis that exists. We know there’s a very tight connection between interoception and mental health. Especially as we’re living in a pandemic right now, mental health is a challenge for all of us as educators, as students, as caregivers at home. The interoception piece is something we really need to be looking at and focusing on. The Interoception Curriculum provides an already made framework for implementing this important support in the school setting.

Reason 5: It’s important!

The number five reason why we need to be using the Interoception Curriculum in the schools is because it is simply important. That might seem very generic but let me explain. As a school based OT, sometimes my workload can get very overwhelming. So many demands, so many requests, so many student consults, et cetera. This has forced me, from a very early point in my career, to consider priorities; what are the priorities that my students need to be successful in the here and now, in the school setting, but also as adults? It is necessary to think critically about what the most important skills are to nurture in our students to be able to achieve that lifelong flourishing. OTs were always asked to do a lot of things, from handwriting all the way to self-regulation. We thought a lot about what is going to empower that success in our students, thinking really critically about that prioritization, so that we can focus our efforts where it most counts. We know that interoception has a vast influence in all of our lives; it’s incredibly important. Considering that, perhaps it might have more of an impact to focus our supports in the area of interoception, mental health, self-regulation, and social emotional learning, as opposed to some of the other places that we sometimes get accidentally stuck in, like handwriting. I know a lot of people who have very rich lives that have very poor handwriting, but I don’t know many people who have very rich lives that struggle interoceptively. It is imperative to think about priorities and make sure that interoception is at the top of that importance list. Until next time.  

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