Living with tactile sensory issues is really challenging! Learn how to help you and your child deal with them better. Checkout these 14 easy strategies…
Trying to get my children to take a nap, I decided to bring my lap top to their room to begin writing this post. While the two other children fell asleep my 4 year old child would not settle down. I kept saying, “Snuggle in and stop moving.” But he kept moving.
As I became more annoyed and his movement continued to increase, despite threats of not being able to do something fun after his nap, I left the room. Frustrated that he was not going to sleep and knowing what that meant for later. Also frustrated that I did not have time to do my work.
Next thing I hear, is shuffling in the bathroom…. a noise that I can NEVER ignore as it has led to shaved heads, finger painting with toothpaste on the carpet, and shampoo all over the floor. He was trying to take his cotton, oh so soft shirt, off because it was “hurting” him. I looked closer on his back, and his skin was dry and irritated. I put lotion on his back, put his shirt back on, and he went back to bed and napped.
Mom fail. Hand to forehead. Being an Occupational Therapist, I know better. I should have asked him why he couldn’t stay still rather than assume he was just not listening.
All About the Tactile Sensory System
The tactile sensory system is one of the 8 senses, and the largest organ of our body. Through different types of receptors in our skin, it gives the brain information about pain, temperature, vibration, and texture. Learn more about how our skin “works” here.
The tricky part is that each kids tactile sensory system registers input differently. Some kids need more tactile input while other kids need less. This means that the same tactile sensory input can feel different to two different kids. Another tricky part is that a kid’s tactile sensory system may be under-responsive and over-responsive to different tactile senses.
Now you need to watch your kid to see if they are having Tactile Sensory Issues and what kind. This is not a one time observation, but an ongoing one. If you can narrow down a Tactile Sensory input that is bothering your kid, you are suddenly equipped with a better understanding of their needs, likes and dislikes.
Possible Tactile Sensory Issues for an Under-Responsive System
- Does not notice when skin is dirty
- Is not aware when their nose is running
- Rubs “messy play” materials all over their body
- Does not mind taking Band-Aides off
- Is not bothered by wearing wet clothing
- Likes to touch things around them including toys and peers
- Does not feel pain like other people
- Likes intense temperatures – a hot bath, hot food, chewing on ice
- Plays rough with others
Possible Tactile Sensory Issues for an Over-Responsive System
- Has trouble changing the type of clothes they wear season to season
- Likes to be naked
- Does not like their hands to be dirty
- Has trouble touching certain textures
- Tags and seams of clothes bother them – such as shirts, pants, and socks
- Does not like to wear jeans with a button closure
- Seems to “over-react” when lightly touched or bumped
- Does not like to wear wet clothes
- Does not like brushing, cutting, washing, their hair
- Prefers baths over showers
- Resists having nails cut
- Wears shoes all the time – does not like to walk around with bare feet
- Does not like face paint or temporary tattoos
Now that you have a better idea if your child has an over-responsive or under-responsive Tactile system, now you can start thinking how to help them…… lets jump right in!
Strategies for Under-Responsive Tactile Processing:
- Provide more opportunities to touch different textures and talk about how they feel and what they look like – this is a great activity for outside. Collect nature treasure that feel different such as the grass, cement, flowers, bark, leaves, rocks, etc.
- Provide messy play opportunities using bins or if outside a baby pool, leaf pile, snow, water play with pouring/squirting/splashing
- Give a fidget toy, with rules and clear expectations, to explore with their hands while doing a listening activity. If your child can not listen while using a fidget then it’s not the right fidget or strategy.
- Write shapes/letters/numbers write them on a tray with sand/flour/rice/sprinkles or use small rocks, lego bricks, beans and pretzel rods.
- Draw pictures over sandpaper, concrete, or bricks to feel the bumps
- Doodle with a vibrating pen
Strategies for Over-Responsive Tactile Processing:
- Use a firm touch when touching the child
- When showering, have the child wash their hair and body using a hand-held shower head and hold it closer to their body.
- Try wearing socks inside out if the seam bothers them, or use seamless socks
- Wear clothes without tags
- Have the child be at the end of the line or the permanent door holder for the class to help limit the possibility of getting touched by a peer.
- Provide sensory bin opportunities to touch different textures. If your child does not want to touch the texture, give them a tool to use so that their hand is not in direct contact with the texture. An example of this would be a spoon, paint brush, popsicle sticks, straws, and toothpicks.
- Have your child clean up the sensory bins with a sponge, paper towel, water, a ruler
- Wash dirt off outside toys using a rag or sponge
The #1 thing you need to know before you try these strategies!
Start slowly. Do NOT try all of these strategies at once or even in the same day or week! If you try too many things at once, your child may become resistant to trying new things. Furthermore, you wont know what strategy really worked. I like to introduce a strategy on a day and then revisit it a few days later to see how it is accepted and then again a few days after that!
Sometimes it is going to be really hard to wait, but you really need to.
So are you ready to try these strategies to help your child with tactile sensory issues? Tell me in the comments how they workout. I’d love to hear your story and your story may help someone else struggling with the same issue!
If you found this post helpful, make sure to checkout 12 Calming Waiting In Line Strategies that Work!
Kelly is a licensed Occupational Therapist with 15 years of experience servicing school-aged children and Early Intervention. She is the founder of OT Perspective and a mom to 4 children. To learn more about her check out her About Me page, here.