tactile defensiveness

Tactile Defensiveness Treatment From Our Akron Occupational Therapists

Tactile defensiveness, sometimes referred to as touch sensitivity, is a type of sensory processing disorder that involves a hypersensitivity to touch. Kids with tactile defensiveness may be extremely uncomfortable with certain sensations that others may not give a second thought: Tags on their shirts, carpet under their bare feet, certain food textures, messy play, or even hugs. Kids with tactile defensiveness may have an especially tough time with self care tasks like brushing their teeth, getting a haircut, having their nails clipped, etc.

As our Akron occupational therapists can explain, when a child (or adult) has this hypersensitivity to touch, they may go out of their way to avoid those sensations, or else have an outsized reaction when they do come in contact with them.

Think about it this way: If you get a stone in your shoe, it’s going to be super annoying. It may even hurt. It’s agitating to the point you will probably stop what you’re doing to take it out. For kids with tactile defensiveness, some of the everyday sensations we’re used to and take for granted feel like that stone in the shoe. The feel of those things triggers the brain’s protective fight, flight, or freeze response. For some, it can even be painful.

Treatment for tactile defensiveness often involves a strategic, gradual build up of pressure and varied proprioceptive sensory input to help reduce sensitivity – and ultimately make it easier for the person to navigate the world around them without suffering extreme discomfort or disruptive meltdowns.

Specifically, we may incorporate:

  • Activities that involve firm pressure. For example, we may do “burrito rolls” in yoga mats. We may recommend weighted vests, weighted blankets, or weighted lap pads.
  • Animal walks. This doesn’t even need to be an elaborate setup. We can turn a simple walk to the bathroom into an opportunity to get some extra tactile input by frog jumping, bear crawling, crab walking their way there. These types of activities are really effective for vestibular and proprioceptive input. Working these muscles can also help with self-regulation and calming.
  • Baking or crafts. The goal here is to encourage the child to become more confident in exploring different textures with their hands. Both baking and crafts can get super messy when you have a child “helping,” but that can also be part of the fun. Describe the sensations as they’re feeling it, encourage them to tell you about it as they squish, squeeze, pour, press, stir.
  • Oral motor tools. If your child struggles with brushing their teeth, there are oral motor devices that can be used to help desensitize them to the feeling of bristles, etc.

If your child struggles with sensory processing – and specifically tactile defensiveness – our experienced Akron occupational therapy team can help.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Tactile Defensiveness and Impaired Adaptation of Neuronal Activity in the Fmr1 Knock-Out Mouse Model of Autism, July 2017, The Journal of Neuroscience

More Blog Entries:

Handwriting Helpers From Our Cleveland Occupational Therapy Team, Oct. 27, 2022, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog