#49 - What Are the Hidden Senses?Nov 19, 2023
Have you ever heard that we have 3 hidden senses?
Perhaps you had your first pediatric occupational therapy appointment and they mentioned that there’s 3 senses you probably never heard about. Or, you started to do some research online about sensory processing and the words “hidden senses” came up.
Likely, this left you feeling pretty overwhelmed and confused.
What do they mean by hidden senses? Are they even real? And why in the world have you never heard of them?
I promise you, it’s not woo woo, they are real, there’s a ton of research that’s widely accepted out there on these senses. In fact, it appears that all 3 of these were first identified in the early-mid 1900s! But with the rise of social media, research, and the field of occupational therapy in the last couple years, they have finally started to gain more attention.
Until recently, the hidden senses have mostly been kept well, a secret, in the medical world. If you attended occupational therapy, physical therapy, audiology, or visited an ENT you may have heard of them. Otherwise, they figured you didn’t really need to know. To be honest, most of these professionals would also give you just the basics, so you knew there was something going on with these senses, but not enough to truly understand or carry over techniques well at home.
But here’s the thing - these 3 senses influence our lives every single day, even if you’re not experiencing a challenge that warrants a medical evaluation.
And knowing how they function can drastically help you improve your understanding of your body, and allow you to better connect with it.
And if in fact you are experiencing a difficulty that warrants intervention, truly understanding them really will make that much of a difference. Let me give you an example - as a new occupational therapist, you don't really get a deep understanding of the sensory system coming out of school. Essentially, you know these senses exist and the basics about them. But you really don’t understand how they work.
I remember as a new OT working on activities with kids. Sure, I knew what activities to do to stimulate a sense, but I really didn’t know how or why it worked. And sometimes, I was left completely confused as to why the sensory input I was offering really didn’t help.
As I took courses and researched my mind was blown when I learned what was really happening in the body while providing input. Going back into sessions, this allowed me to really see and determine why the activities we were doing really weren’t helping. And that’s what parents experience at home too. They try to carry over an activity from therapy, but because they don’t know what’s happening, or what to look for, it’s hard to know whether it’s truly effective.
Ok, ok, I know you’re holding your breath here and waiting to know what those 3 senses actually are.
Our 3 hidden senses are our:
- Proprioceptive Sense
- Vestibular Sense
- Interoceptive Sense
These sound like really big words, and they are. But that doesn’t mean they have to be super confusing or complicated. To put it as simply as I can, our proprioceptive sense is our sense of body awareness. Our vestibular sense is our sense of head and body movement. And our Interoceptive sense is our sense of what is going on inside our body.
Like the other senses, a person can have challenges in one or more of these senses. The type of challenges they can experience include hypersensitivity, hyposensitivity, seeking, discrimination difficulties, and sensory-based motor difficulties.
What I personally find the most interesting about these senses is that they hold a lot of the answers to your mysterious questions.
- Why can’t my child just sit still?
- Why do they bite, or throw, or hit when they’re over-excited or upset?
- Why is potty training going so hard for us? It doesn’t seem like they even realize they need to go to the bathroom.
All 3 of these questions can be explained by the hidden senses.
Let’s start with #1: Why can’t my child just sit still?
Well, this can be tied both to the vestibular (head & body movement) or proprioceptive (body awareness) senses. When a child’s body isn’t getting enough vestibular input, their brain tells them to look for it by moving. But when their sensory system isn’t functioning as effectively as it can, this sensory input often isn’t interpreted correctly, so they keep looking for more - often in ineffective, or not appropriate ways. This may look like your child getting yelled at constantly in class for getting out of their seat, being unable to sit in circle time, or being unable to stay at the table during dinner. On the other hand, if a child has decreased body awareness and proprioceptive processing, this can make it challenging for them to stay seated for a long amount of time. They may constantly need to shift positions or move because their body simply isn’t able to hold themselves up.
#2: Why do they bite, throw, or hit when they’re over-excited or upset?
This one can be linked to the proprioceptive sense. Biting, throwing, or hitting are all forms of proprioceptive input. They stimulate the receptors in our joints, muscles, and tendons. Proprioceptive input is extremely calming to the body when it’s out-of-sync. Without even realizing it, your child may be subconsciously doing this to calm their body and their mind when overstimulated. Now, we know that hitting, biting, and throwing are not really socially acceptable behaviors, and they hurt other people. So in these cases providing more effective and safer options to get the same input can help.
#3: Why is pottery training so hard for us? It doesn’t seem like they even realize they need to go to the bathroom.
Some children who struggle with potty training, but not all, have a hard time with their interoceptive processing. Meaning, their body and brain isn’t able to receive and interpret the message that they need to use the bathroom. The interoceptive sense helps us interpret our body signals. For example, I know I need to use the bathroom because I feel pressure in my bladder. My body then responds by activating my muscles to hold in the pee until I make it to a toilet. Then that pressure goes away after I pee. But if you can’t feel these feelings, it can lead to toileting difficulties.
Now, I could have gone into WAY more depth on all of these questions - right now you are probably still a little confused about these senses. Honestly these questions could likely be podcast episodes of their own. But I wanted you to get an idea of why these senses are truly so important. They’re linked to many parts of life.
But my intent is absolutely not to leave you confused. You know me, and I love me some good, in-depth education, so you can truly understand what is going on in the mind and body and be more empowered to support the sensory system.
And that’s why I’ve created an in-depth, 45-minute mini-course for you called: The Hidden Senses. In this mini-course not only am I going to get into the nitti-gritti of what each of these senses are, but I’m also going to teach you exactly how they work.
Because when you truly understand how they work, and what makes them tick, then you can be more effective with your strategies.
But we’re not just stopping there, I’m also providing you with tons of easy ideas for supporting these senses. And because you have this great understanding, you’ll be more confident to apply the techniques, and carryover your therapy education at home.
Stay tuned, because it’s coming for you in December. OR, if you’re in the Food Explorers Membership (soon to be called the Sensory Toolbox) it’s waiting for you RIGHT NOW!
If you want to get your hands on this mini-course today, I know I would, head over to www.drsamgoldman.com/food-explorers-membership to join us today. The best part? Not only do you get this Hidden Senses Training, but you also get access to all of our other sensory mini-courses like Understanding Sensory Challenges, food specific related trainings, food play activities, and SO SO SO much more.
I can’t wait to see you in there!
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