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#SensoryIssues: Interoception & Psychosomatism

Musings posted on her blog on July 3rd a post about “interoception”, which she defined as:

describes our sensitivity to sensations that originate in our bodies

Her post concentrates on the issues surrounding the muting of interoceptive signals that is quite often a “Thing” for autistics, and the problems that can result from that (such as a serious infection, in her case, which could have been caught weeks ago if she had been aware of the sensation); and on the issues of alexithymia, which often mean confusing emotional states with interoceptive information.

In my response to one of the comments on that post, I linked the concept of interoception to the concept of psychosomatic symptoms; and this post is to explore that concept further.

The definition of psychosomatic (in this particular case) is: adj. (of a physical illness or other condition) caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress.

So, interoception involves the sensations that one’s body experiences (the examples used by Musings involve: temperature, pain, itch, hunger, thirst, and sensations from our organs, to mention most) and our sensitivity to those sensations; and psychosomatism involves mental or emotional difficulties either producing or worsening unpleasant bodily sensations and / or problems. And autistics tend to be some combination of hypersensitive (very sensitive) and hyposensitive (much less sensitive than “normal”) to sensations.

This links in with the element of alexithymia, whereby we can link our emotional states to interoceptive information, and if there is an emotional problem / issue, we often tend to make things worse, because of psychosomatism. Musings mentioned that if she’s upset, she gets cold, and can’t always tell the difference between being cold because of the external temperature (or thermoregulation issues, which we also tend to have), or because she’s feeling upset and that’s how her brain interprets that information. What happens if being upset, or angry, or frustrated, makes you think you feel sick to your stomach, or that your body is tenser than it really is?

That tends to happen to me. And the answer is that quite often because I don’t recognize what the cause is, my tendency towards psychosomatic reactions kicks in, and suddenly I have a positive feedback spiral that’s making my nausea start to get out of control, or sending me into tension headache territory.

And even if you don’t have alexithymia, or your alexithymia isn’t serious, there’s still an element of interaction between the interoceptive information and psychosomatic reactions that, if you don’t have muted interoception (i.e. hyposensitivity to interoceptive information), can lead to positive feedback loops. If you don’t feel well physically, you quite often don’t tend to feel well emotionally, and if you have psychosomatic reactions… there you go! Swirling down the whirlpool of positive feedback.

So… that’s just some thoughts that occurred to me as I replied to a comment on the interoception post, and some other elements that came in… somehow. What about your thoughts?

😉 tagAught

By tagÂûght

I’m in my mid-thirties. I’ve lived in Canada all my life (Toronto and St. John’s), but I’ve travelled to Florida, Massachusetts, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Costa Rica. I love airplane travel (as long as there are no noisy kids around me!). I’m proud to be Canadian (though Harper might end up changing that!).

I have ASD, aka Autism Spectrum Disorder. Strictly speaking, I’ve been diagnosed as having Aspergers, but (for Canada and the US, at least) that diagnosis is going to be melded with ASD as of May, with the publication of DSM V. Having ASD, and the job I do at the moment (see First Post), is why reading the blogs I mentioned above inspired me to start one of my own about my life in general.

Back in October, I got my driver’s license (as opposed to driving permit for learners) – after twenty years of effort and trying. A lot of thanks is due to my instructor, who has dealt with people with ASD before, and so knew how to teach me for the test (I was able to drive before, just not pass the test, due to anxiety and problems with multi-tasking).

I’m a fanatic writer of SF and Fantasy, both fanfiction and original, and I devour books as well.

I love animals, in particular cats, and I have a fascination with wolves, wild cats (including the big cats), orcas, and the physiology of cephalopods.

I love the wilderness – though I don’t really have the endurance (at the moment, at least) to go hiking or camping out.

And, rather importantly, I’m not someone who thinks about political correctness when it comes to vocabulary. I use what seems right when it seems right. That will include calling myself a person with ASD, or an Autistic, or an Aspie. I’m me; I can call myself what I want.

So, enough about me. Go read my posts – they’re more informative!

1 reply on “#SensoryIssues: Interoception & Psychosomatism”

I know this is an old entry but couldn’t resist the opportunity to share. As a preschool child through early elementary school, my Aspie son seemed to NOT know when he needed to eat. He was very thin and very active at that time of his life. My intuition told me that it would be downright foolish not to feed him until he said he was hungry. However, that is the precise advice doctors and nutritionists give to parents about feeding their children! I feel quite certain that one of his sensory issues was that he just didn’t experience being hungry.

I love your site/blog. Keep up the great work!

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