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What is Tactile Sensitivity?

Many children are affected by Tactile Sensitivity. It impacts the clothes they wear, the food they eat, and even the toys they play with. This blog will focus on learning a little bit about tactile sensitivity, how it can impact your child's function, how to identify red flags, and how to address them.

What is Tactile Sensitivity

Tactile Sensitivity is a term used most commonly by Occupational Therapists. An OT will define a child with Tactile Defensiveness when a child is hyper-responsive and overly sensitive toward touch. The tactile system refers to our sense of touch which is through our skin. The tactile sense is used to interpret information such as hot and cold, rough versus soft, and pain.

When a child demonstrates patterns of observable behaviors that exhibit an emotional response we refer to that as tactile defensiveness. Most children would not be bothered by a seam on their sock whereas a child with tactile sensitivity will meltdown if it does not line up perfectly along their toes. Every child prefers certain clothes, however, a child with tactile sensitivity will be bothered so much that it will interfere with their ability to focus on anything other than the input.

How To Spot Tactile Sensitivity In Children

  1. When a child is overly bothered by the feeling of textures or fabrics.

  2. Children will avoid walking barefoot on textures such as sand, grass, or even carpet.

  3. When a child will refuse to touch various textured toys such as slime, play dough, dry rice, or beans.

  4. Displays difficulty with grooming such as washing their hair, toothbrushing, nail cutting, and bath time routines.

  5. Increased anxiety when experiencing unexpected touch or light touch.

How To Help Children Manage

Tactile desensitization is one of the best methods an OT will utilize. I tend to introduce dry beans or rice. Have your child dig for hidden puzzle pieces or toys. You can use a cup and spoon to work on your child's fine motor skills by asking them to fill a cup with dry rice or beans. I will initially engage the child in a proprioceptive workout prior to introducing the textured activity. For example, a simple obstacle course with frog jumps, wheelbarrow walks, and crashing into a pile of pillows to start the session. This helps to organize your child's mind and body. Then seated at the table, I will introduce a textured activity from slime or playdough to shaving cream. I will always have a towel present to wipe their hands if they become dysregulated. I NEVER force their hands into the tactile input. I just try to encourage them through play that they will get dirty. Over time, these children can tolerate various textures and no longer misinterpret the tactile input.

The best way to help your child improve their tactile input is through a safe environment that allows them to explore in a controlled manner slowly increasing the duration in which your child can tolerate the texture. Introducing various textures for them to explore. Develop a rapport with your child that you will not have them do anything that is too overstimulating. Speak to an Occupational Therapist who can help guide you into therapeutic activities that will improve your child's sensory needs.

Learn more about tactile sensitivity and discover exclusive activities in our Tactile Sensitivity Course!

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