Tactile Sensitivities

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Does your child struggle with getting dressed each morning? Do you have difficulty getting out the door while your child is crying in the middle of his/her room in only a diaper or undies? Does he/she cry, fight, and push away when you’re trying to put on their shirt, pants, socks, and shoes? Will he/she only wear long sleeve, spandex shirts that you’ve made sure to cut every tag out of? Tactile sensitivities may play a role. When a child processes touch information in a different way than is typical, it may feel more intense and create a negative reaction. 

Why does this happen?  The body receives and analyzes sensory signals from receptors in our skin. Feeling objects sends a message to our brain to interpret pressure, temperature, texture, and lets us know what it is that we’re feeling. Children with tactile sensitivities are often on high alert and the sense of touch can send them into “fight or flight” mode. No wonder children fight and scream when getting dressed as they’re anticipating this overwhelming state for their entire day!

Signs of tactile sensitivities: withdraws from unexpected touch; becomes anxious, upset, or refuses to put on clothes; doesn’t like messy play or hands being dirty; difficulty with tactile daily activities such as washing hands, bathing, teeth brushing, brushing hair and haircuts, or cutting nails; becomes upset easily in crowded settings; refuses to eat certain textures.

What can we do to help? Guided exposure to sensory play allows children to process and appropriately respond to tactile input in their environment. Work with an OT to develop thoughtful sensory activities to support your child’s individual needs. Never force a child to participate. Some activities to help with tolerating tactile input:

  • Finger paint
  • Shaving cream
  • Sand play
  • Corn starch and water mixture
  • Playdoh
  • Water beads
  • Slime
  • Dry rice or bean bin
  • Skin massage with/without lotion
  • Water play
  • Pop bubbles with fingers
  • Cook or bake with an adult, touching, rolling, kneading, and stirring foods
  • Walk barefoot in sand, grass, leaves
  • Touch n Feel books
  • Vibrating toothbrush
  • Hand massager
  • Sensory brushing protocol
  • Calming proprioceptive input such as bear (tight) hugs, joint compressions, firmly roll an exercise ball over back and legs, make a “burrito” by rolling child up in blanket (keeping face exposed) or “sandwich” between 2 pillows, weighted blanket, jump into crash pad, squeeze finger/toe nails prior to and after cutting, crawl through tunnels or on different textures

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