Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Regulation Rendezvous--Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System

Today's Regulation Rendezvous is brought to you by our fabulous Occupational Therapist, Lynn DeMange. In today's post Lynn will be discussing the hot topic of Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System.

Did you realize that you have 8 sensory systems?!  When we think of sensory systems most people commonly think of our 5 main senses: visual, auditory, tactile, gustatory (taste) and olfactory (smell).  Our 6th and 7th sensory systems are proprioception (body awareness) and vestibular (movement).  Our 8th sensory system is our interoceptive system which is our sensory system that gives us information regarding the internal condition of our body.

What Exactly is Interoception?

 The interoceptive system has specialized cells (receptors) that are responsible for collecting important sensory information.  In the case of interoception, the receptors are located throughout most of the tissues in our body.  The information gathered by these receptors is sent to a specific area of the brain called the insular cortex, or insula for short.  The insula translates the incoming messages and enables us to identify our current body states.  In other words, interoception allows us to answer the question, “How do I feel?”
Interoception allows us to experience feelings of tickle, hunger, fullness, social touch, need for bathroom, itch, muscle tension, pain, sexual arousal, nausea, physical exertion, breathing rate, heart rate, thirst and every single emotion. 

Interoceptive Awareness (IA) is the ability to notice sensations and give meaning to the sensations.  The insula is the interoception center of the brain.  Research has found that people with well-functioning insula are more aware of the feelings within the body.  These individuals are described as having good IA.

Good levels of IA are clearly linked to the development of many important skills areas including self-awareness, self-regulation, problem solving, intuition, flexibility of thought, social awareness, and perspective taking.  On the other hand, individuals with reduced IA have difficulty with the same skills which, in turn, can have a significant impact on health, well-being, and successful participation in everyday activities.

Based on substantial research, we now know that the insula, or the interoceptive center of the brain, is significantly impacted in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and that there is brain-based evidence backing the interoceptive experiences reported by individuals with ASD.

Without good IA, good self-regulation cannot exist!

Therefore, IA needs to be a main focus when addressing self-regulation needs.

Interoception Resources

Kelly Mahler, MS, OTR/L is the author of the book, Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System. She has also developed the Comprehensive Assessment for Interoceptive Awareness.


This assessment includes The Interoceptive Awareness Interview, Assessment of Self-Regulation and The Caregiver Questionnaire for Interoceptive Awareness.

In regards to the Assessment of Self-Regulation the percentage scores are not standardized or normed, but it gives you a calculated number to serve as baseline.

There is a huge need to have a standardized measure of interoception for kids. Kelly is currently working with a few physicians on a large interoception research project and she is hopeful that a side benefit of their work is to have a measure that can be used by others. At this point, that research project is a year or two away from completion.
If you know of anyone looking for a research project, Kelly is happy to share her assessment and interested researchers could at least get normed scores for different ages :)  Kelly welcomes people interested in research opportunities to contact her at

What Can We Do To Help Develop Interoceptive Awareness?

 1. Be Positive…And Focus on the Positive!
  • Establish a concrete concept of positive feeling emotions – just start with 2 or 3 different emotions. For example, start with excited, happy and relaxed/calm.
  • Then, connect those identified emotions to experiences that cause those positive feelings.  For example, I become excited when I win the BINGO game in class.  I am happy when my teacher writes a nice note on my test.  I am relaxed/calm when I sit in my beanbag chair and read a book.
  • Finally, work on connecting those emotions to a description of the sensation noticed when feeling that emotion.  For example, my heart starts to race when I feel excited!  My body feels warm when I am happy.  My muscles feel loose when I am relaxed/calm.

2. Body Checks

  • Body Check Charts make the abstractness of internal sensations more concrete by having a visual structure to represent those internal experiences.
  • The Body Check Charts displayed below are examples of visually structured methods for building awareness of body signals.
  • More information at
  • Body Check Chart Directions

Alternate ideas that can make the process of using the Body Check Chart fun and personalized for a particular student:

  • Make a full size Body Check Chart by tracing the person’s body and putting their name on it.
  • Pointing to a body part on the chart and asking the person to wiggle the corresponding area.
  • Pointing to the body parts in the chart while playing Simon Says.
  • Making an observation about the person’s body part (fingers tapping, feet shaking, etc.) and labeling it on the chart.
  • Experimenting with sensations of a body part and describing how it feels like touching different textures, tasting different foods, listening to different sounds, etc.

3. Body – Emotion – Cause

  • This is a great resource developed by Kelly Mahler!  It’s a visual guide intended to be used for in the moment processing connecting positive feeling body signals and emotions to the cause or context of the situation (see the example below):

We need to know what emotion we are feeling in order to control it!

An individual can be taught 100’s of coping strategies, but it is not until we have a clear indicator of when to use a strategy and which strategy is the best match for the emotion at hand that we will be effective emotion regulators across different situations and settings.
Self-regulation is our ability to control the way we feel and act.  The interoceptive system drives our self-regulation behaviors.  Good interoceptive awareness is absolutely crucial to effective self-regulation!

Want to learn more?

  • Advance for Occupational Therapy: 2-Part Interoception Article

Friday, January 12, 2018

ALIST Spotlight-- Traci Parker, Forest Elementary

Last year we had the pleasure of coaching Intervention Specialist, Traci Parker, at Forest Elementary in Troy. When working with Traci we quickly realized that she was an ALIST teacher through her consistent implementation of evidence-based practices, great feedback and questions about additional strategies, adaptation of supports to work in various settings and with various staff members, and her ability to be a leader and advocate for students. In today's blog post we will be highlighting Traci in the ALIST Spotlight!

Traci has implemented the visual support of a location-based schedule for various locations throughout the school building. Each location is designated by a different color and shape. The shapes are lined up on a portable folder to create the student's daily schedule. When it is time to transition, the student can check the schedule by taking off the top shape and matching it to the location with the corresponding shape.

Another visual support, is the use of a Change Card to prime about a schedule change. This is a predictable way to communicate unpredictable changes in the routine. Traci can show the student the change card or place it on their schedule and then prime them for what will be happening instead of the normally scheduled activity.

Tracy also uses the best practice of structured work systems to communicate to students how much work to do, what work to do, when the work will be finished, and what comes next after working. She started by teaching this skill in the small resource room setting and then replicated it in the general education classroom to improve success in this setting.
structured work drawer system in resource room
structured work bin system study carrel in general education classroom

Additionally, Traci helps her students maintain internal regulation through use of proactively scheduled, non-contingent breaks from sensory stimuli through the use of a calming sensory space. Again, she uses this support in her small resource room setting and has carried it over into the general education classroom.
calming sensory space options in resource room

calming sensory space beanbag in general education classroom

Traci uses several other supports as well including a visual countdown for communicating the passing of time and preparing students for transitions,

color-coded organizational supports for student supplies and progress monitoring materials,

and flexible seating to meet various student needs during circle time.

It has been a pleasure to work with Traci this past year and see how she implements a variety of supports to help her students be more successful in the resource room and general education classrooms. Thanks Traci for allowing us to share your space with others!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Upcoming PD Session-- Advanced Boardmaker Plus!: Interactive Activity Make-and-Take

Advanced Boardmaker: How to Modify and Create Interactive Boardmaker Activities Using Boardmaker Plus!

When is it?
  • Friday, February 9th from 9:00am-3:00pm

Where is it?
  • Miami Valley Regional Center 4801 Springfield Street, Dayton, OH 45431 in Room 300

Who should attend?
  • Intervention Specialists and Paraprofessionals with an intermediate-advanced knowledge of Boardmaker Plus! who are interested in creating interactive activities for use on a desktop computer, laptop, touchscreen, interactive whiteboard, or Smartboard. 

What should participants expect?
  • Students with ASD and other low-incidence disabilities are often motivated by the use of technology-aided instruction and intervention and may benefit from the use of interactive learning activities. In the first part of this session, participants will learn about advanced symbol functions including importing saved photos and graphics, creating new buttons, naming and categorizing new symbols, and drag and drop features. In the second part of the session, participants will learn how to modify and create interactive activities including using button actions, accessing and exploring interactive activity templates, modifying interactive templates, creating interactive activities, and linking boards to other boards and to the internet.
  • Laptops with Boardmaker Plus! installed will be available for this session. Participants should bring their own USB drive to save activities (most interactive activities are too big to email). 

How much does it cost to attend?
  • The cost is FREE to all districts who have already signed up for Miami Valley Autism Coaching Team services for the 2017-2018 school year. 

How do I sign up?
  • Contact our secretary Mary Fryman at or (937) 236-9965 to register. Session limited to 14 participants due to laptop availability. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Organization Station-- Lesson Materials

Storage and organization of lesson materials can sometimes be an overwhelming task! We hope today's Organization Station provides some practical solutions for organizing everything from thematic units to the smallest manipulatives! Many of the most organized teachers utilize uniform bins and have a great labeling system!

We have seen tons of great ideas for organizing thematic and monthly unit materials in self-contained, resource, and general education classrooms. 
Rene Dyke
Arcanum Butler Elementary, Arcanum

Taylor Ruef
Stevenson Elementary, Mad River Local Schools

Kathy Timmerman
Fairbrook Elementary, Beavercreek

Kathy Timmerman
Fairbrook Elementary, Beavercreek

We love the use of curtains to cut down on visual clutter when storing various materials. 

There are many different ways to organize group materials. We love how many of these options allow you to "grab and go" so that you can quickly take materials to where you need them. 
Amy Beanblossom
Arcanum Butler Elementary, Arcanum

Kathy Timmerman
Fairbrook Elementary, Beavercreek

Look at these great neutral colors of the bins for the 9-Cube Organizer shelf. Another great example of reducing visual clutter!
Kendall Koehler
Normandy Elementary, Centerville

A popular favorite is the use of the Trofast shelving system from IKEA. 
Carrie Prickett
Jane Chance Elementary, Miamisburg

Look at this great use of adhesive-backed business card holders for labeling individual bins. Labels can be changes and the holders can be removed and reused if needed.

Lesson materials may be organized by week, day, or particular group. 


Gallon-sized plastic baggies can be used to hold all of the materials needed for a particular group or lesson. 

Smaller manipulatives should be stored and labeled as well for easy access by staff or students. 
Kenzie Bruggeman
Versailles Elementary, Versailles

Carrie Prickett
Jane Chance Elementary, Miamisburg

For easy access to frequently used items, install a curtain rod and hang IKEA Bygel containers under your whiteboard tray or near a group table. 

Many of our classrooms also label their storage for functional materials in the kitchen area. 
Tabitha Eaton
Main Elementary, Beavercreek Elementary

Jennifer Jette and Amanda Gallup
Vandalia-Butler High School, Vandalia

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Taskbox Time-- Sorting by Color, Size, and Shape

Structured Work Systems can be a great way for students to practice basic skills using a variety of taskbox activities. In today's Taskbox Time we will focus on taskboxes used to practice basic sorting skills by color, size, and shape.


sort folders into magazine holders
Laurie Maravetz
Shaefer Middle School, Springfield

sort paint chip colors
Teach Love Autism

sort checkers into slots 

soft clothespins onto colored tagboard 

sort pocket chips into painted cups

separate and sort colored links into Ziploc Bags


sort bear counters into stamped Ziploc bags

sort objects into labeled Tupperware


sort lego by size and shape

sort lid to container

sort pattern blocks by shape and match lid

Many taskboxes can be made simply with common household and office supplies. The Target dollar bins and Dollar Tree also offer affordable materials for easy taskbox assembly. Other organizations provide donations. In the Miami Valley, many teachers volunteer at Crayons for Classrooms or attend the Montgomery County Material Reuse Facility's Teacher Shopping Days.

For more ideas check out some of our favorite structured work system books.