The Tactile Defensive Child

There are some children, especially among those with neurobiological disorders, who have poor tolerance for being touched (the feel of anything rubbing or touching the body, such as certain textures, clothes, or being crowded in line). Many overreact to being bumped into or may refuse to wear socks because the seam across the toes is "bothering them." These children have what is called "tactile defensiveness." For some children this means that sitting on the carpet may be almost intolerable. One of the adults I interviewed for this book shared that he still prefers to wear silks and cannot wear many other fabrics. As a child he refused to wear anything but flannel shirts.

In one special education class the teacher does a lot to build tolerance and acceptance for some degree of touching through numerous sensory activities. For example, she has a box of items for children to play and experiment with—feather dusters, rolling pins, fabrics of different textures, sandpaper, and gloves of different textures. (Read Section 4.1, A Parent's Story, and the two case studies in Section 4.2 that describe some of the sensory issues their children had at young ages.)

Note: It is highly recommended to consult with an occupational therapist if a child is showing signs of being tactile defensive or having unusual reactions to various sensory stimuli.

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