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What is Tactile Sensory Disorder?

The word tactile refers to the sense of touch. The information we receive through the receptors in our skin or touch refers to the tactile system. Tactile sensory disorder can cause a child to feel extremely sensitive to touch or not feel the warning signs of pain when touching heat or other things that trigger pain. With tactile sensory disorder, children have a very heightened sense of touch. Also, Some children may feel extreme pain or discomfort by a light touch from others. Children with tactile sensory disorder will withdraw, avoid, or attempt to escape in response to tactile simulations. Many children will find tactile simulations positive, such as feeling odd textures or feeling extremely warm or cold even while others will avoid these things altogether. 

What are the signs of tactile sensory disorder?

There are many signs you can look out for to determine if your child may need a professional evaluation. If your child does not respond to pain when getting hurt this may warrant a sensory processing disorder. They may also enjoy jumping from a high distance and be unaware of the danger because although it looks like it should hurt they don’t process it as pain so they continue to jump or fall. They may avoid certain textures and have seemingly over-exaggerated responses to textures, food, touch, and temperatures. This can look like a child gagging over feeling something on their skin or cringing as if they touched a bug when eating certain foods. This can also cause an aggressive response in some children. 

What I can do to help my child?

There are activities that can support the development of tactile sensory disorders. See the list below.

Treasure Hunt Sand/Rice

  • Get a clear plastic container and fill it with small objects that your child will be interested in finding. Add sand to the container and encourage your child to go on a treasure hunt and find the objects at the bottom. This will get them used to the odd texture of sand. Let them go at their own pace. They might not want to at first, but keep offering the activity until they attempt it or adding different objects of interest. After they master this activity repeat this but use rice instead.

Therapy Brush

  • Use a therapy brush to rub on your child’s arms, legs, hands, and feet. Encourage your child to do this himself as well. If your child expresses that this is painful then use a soft cloth. Don’t force it if your child is communicating that it is painful.

Get Messy! (Hands)

Let your child draw shapes, letters, or pictures with shaving cream and finger paint. Let them get their hands messy. Join in with them to show them how much fun it is and to encourage them to try it.

Play A Mystery Item Game

Play a game where you have to close your eyes and guess what an item is based on touch. Use familiar items at first and then add one or two unfamiliar textures in. Talk about the different textures before the game so your child is familiar with them. Don’t push too hard, just make it fun and keep encouraging it until successful.

Pretend Time

Encourage your child to pretend that he/she is washing their face with a towel. Use different textures. 

Challenges

Your child may gag in response to tactile stimuli, such as touching a texture that feels odd to them may cause them to gag. This can also cause them to throw up food if it happens after eating. Speech therapy can help overcome this. A speech therapist can help your child get used to different textures in their mouth, which will reduce the incidence of gagging/throwing up.

Your child may refuse to go to certain places. The beach is one example since sand can be painful and uncomfortable to children with a tactile sensory disorder. You can help your child overcome this by allowing them to sit on a blanket at the beach and slowly let them explore with the sand without pushing or forcing them. Once they begin exploring they will be more comfortable as time goes on and eventually get used to the odd texture.  

Additionally, behavior problems may occur due to tactile sensory disorder. Teach your child coping skills such as breathing, counting (or tapping), thinking of a happy place. Make sure to teach your child these skills when they are calm and practice them often. Keep a record of these strategies with the date and a note about the experience making sure to list the strategy used next to the note so you can track which strategies work best for your child.                                           

Leave a comment if any of these activities have helped your child, or let me know what your thoughts are about tactile sensory disorder!

See my post about behavior management: Counting Down For Compliance: Get your child to listen without losing your… cool.

Check out https://www.autism.org.uk/