Hands in a heart shape holding an infinity rainbox. Underneath the words Sandra Bell ND Coach
#16 Why 8 Senses Makes More Sense Than 5

·        There are 5 commonly known senses

·        Adding 3 more is useful – vestibular, proprioception, and interoception

·        Knowing about these 8 senses can help to better understand behaviour

There are 5 commonly known senses

The 5 commonly known senses: hearing, smell, taste, sight, and touch are definitely useful to know. Along with the fact that they can be both over and under sensitive – even in the same person. For example, my son loves to make loud noises to give him hearing sensory input, but he also gets overwhelmed when other people are making too much noise because he is also sensitive to hearing input. 

Adding 3 more is useful – vestibular, proprioception, and interoception

It is also my son that led me to discover the other 3 senses that I suggest are a good addition to the common 5. The 5 senses come from work by Aristotle, whilst modern researchers posit there is anywhere from those 5 up to 53 senses. Whilst day to day it would be difficult to take 53 senses into account there are 3 that are very useful to be aware of –  vestibular, proprioception and interoception.

Vestibular can also be thought of as a sense of balance. If you walk smoothly up or down stairs, you have used your vestibular sense to stay balanced whilst transferring your weight from one foot to the other. Those seeking vestibular input like to move and swing and climb and hang upside down, maybe even spin around.

Proprioception is also called body awareness and is our ability to know where our body is within the space we are in. If you close your eyes and use your finger to touch your nose – you have used your proprioception sense to do so. Importantly it is also about muscles receiving input.

My son seeking proprioceptive input by chewing on his shirts was how I came across us having more than 5 senses. I just couldn’t figure it out, at one stage we were going through up to 3 shirts a day having holes chewed in them, and even when I tried putting his favourite shirt on him, thinking surely he’ll be able to stop himself (oh how little I knew) he chewed through that too. I knew our budget couldn’t keep up with going through 3 shirts a day so I started researching. And I came across the concept of proprioception and that chewing provides this type of input because the jaw muscles are among the strongest in our body.

It stands out for me as one of those key lightbulb moments on my journey towards better understanding neurodivergence because I realised that my son’s chewing had nothing to do with a choice, he was seeking input, not doing it as a deliberate behaviour that I could somehow change by upping the consequences and putting him in his favourite shirt.

Interoception is sensory input about what is going on inside your body - when you feel hungry, thirsty or like you need to go to the toilet. It is one of those that you could break down further if you wanted to and single out your heart, stomach, bladder etc… But for day to day purposes I think it is useful to understand that we have an internal sense that can be over or under sensitive and that it helps us understand what is going on within our bodies. Under sensitive interoception can be a reason that a child can’t feel they need to go to the toilet until it is too late for them to be able to get there. It can also be related to alexythimia, but that’s for another blog.

Knowing about these 8 senses can help to better understand behaviour.

Expanding senses under consideration from 5 to 8 helps better understand behaviour because needing or avoiding vestibular, proprioceptive and interceptive input can lead to behaviours that are easily misinterpreted as being ‘unexpected’ behaviours. When you use a neurodiversity lens to view behaviour I don’t think there are any unexpected behaviours – but that’s for yet another blog. For example, kids are asked to sit on the floor and listen to the teacher, for some kids to keep regulated they need vestibular and/or proprioceptive input so they move around and bump in to other kids and get admonished for just doing what their system needs. Why are their sensory needs not taken into account?

Thanks for reading. What sensory input do you or your child need?

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