Sensory Corner: Tactile Defensiveness and other Tactile System Disorders
Editor’s Note: This article is written for the parents of children who have SID and related problems. We publish it here because we know that therapists like to give their client’s caregivers as much information as possible.
By: Debbie Woodward
One of the most common sensory disorders is Tactile Defensiveness. With this condition, a child is over or “hyper”sensitive to different types of touch. Light touch is one of the most upsetting types of touch to a child with SI dysfunction. Depending on the intensity of their dysfunction, they may become anywhere from mildly annoyed to completely freaked out by having someone lightly touch them. A gentle kiss on the cheek may feel like they are having coarse sandpaper rubbed on their face. They also may dislike feeling sand, grass or dirt on their skin. Getting dressed may be a struggle as different clothing textures, tags and seams may cause them great discomfort.
Often children with Tactile Defensiveness or touch hypersensitivity will avoid, become fearful of, or are irritated by:
- The wind blowing on bare skin
- Light touch
- Vibrating toys
- Barefoot touching of carpet, sand and/or grass
- Clothing textures
- Tags and seams on clothing
- Touching of “messy” things
- Changes in temperature
On the other side of the spectrum is a child with Tactile Undersensitivity or “Hyposensitivity“. A tactile undersensitive child need a lot of input to get the touch information he or she needs. They will often seek out tactile input on their own in sometimes unsafe ways.
A child who is undersensitive to touch may have these difficulties:
- Emotional and social , Craves touch to the extent that friends, family, and even strangers become annoyed and upset. This could be the baby who constantly needs to be held, or the toddler who is clingy, craving continual physical contact.
- Sensory exploration, Makes excessive physical contact with people and objects. Touching other children too forcefully or inappropriately (such as biting or hitting).
- Motor – To get more tactile sensory information, he may need to use more of his skin surface to feel he’s made contact with an object.
- Grooming and dressing – May choose clothing that is, in your opinion, unacceptably tight or loose. He may brush his teeth so hard that he injures his gums.
If you child shows signs of Tactile Defensiveness or Undersensitivity, it’s important to get a proper screening by an Occupational Therapist, pediatrician or other licensed professional. This sensory assessment will help you in seeking out the proper course of treatment and therapy.
Article Reprinted with Permission of Debbie Woodward
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