The tactile sense is a huge part of sensory processing disorder. Simply put, it is the messages sent to our brain when something touches against our skin. Children with sensory issues may be either under- or over-responsive to being touched.
When a child is under-responsive, he doesn’t feel pain from bumping or cutting himself, he won’t feel when his face is dirty, or if his clothing is backwards. He also won’t care to play in mud, slime, sand or dirt, and won’t notice if he’s stepping or sitting on an object.
When a child is over-responsive, the slightest bump makes him scream like he’s being tortured, he may shy away from hugs, he hates being tickled, and any gentle touch feels uncomfortable, especially if he’s taken by surprise. He doesn’t enjoy crowded places for fear of brushing up against people, and avoids getting his hands or clothing dirty. He also may hate going out in the cold or having cold water splashed at him. Brushing teeth, being shampooed, or getting a haircut can be a challenging experience.
Children with tactile trouble also have a hard time figuring out what they are holding without looking with their eyes. For example, if the child needs to find a penny amongst a bunch of coins in his pocket, he’s have to use his eyes to help him.
My son MeMe is over-responsive to touch. It’s strange because he wasn’t always this way. Once when he was two years old, he was singing and dancing around the room (which was his favorite activity) and he banged his knee into the wall. He kept on going, and a few minutes later I noticed blood dripping. I cleaned him up but he took no notice, not even of the blood. He just kept on dancing. That was typical of MeMe when he was a toddler- never a complaint even if he got hurt which was seldom.
When MeMe went to nursery school at age 3, his teacher told me on one of his first days of school that he had fallen down in the playground and wasn’t hurt more than a scrape but he was yelling and screaming about it. She thought it was an inappropriate response, and to me it didn’t sound like my MeMe at all! But ever since then, when he gets hurts, he wails like he needs an ambulance. When I realized that we’d have to work on this with him, I would ask him how much it hurts: Like a ball bouncing against him, like a nail poking him, like a hammer banging him, or like a truck running him over. Well, first I would actually ask him: “Do you need my to call an ambulance?” He calmed down immediately and seriously answered: “No.” Then I’d ask him how much it hurt, per the above four choices. Once he was able to think about the feeling and describe it to me, he got a lot better about it all. Especially when he got used to answering the question and got better at discriminating between the feelings and the levels of pain.
MeMe also hates surprises, hates being touched except for firm touch (loves deep massage), hates being in cold water or being splashed unexpectedly, and is very difficult about getting a haircut. He’s okay with brushing his teeth and showering since he’s been doing it by himself for a while now. When he was a toddler he wouldn’t go near playdough or any messy games, and every day when the day was done I’d take his clothing and be able to put it away for another day- it was spotlessly clean! In the past few years though he’s become more centered- he loves playdough, touches food with his fingers, and his clothing is pretty dirty at the end of the day. He also used to scream through his baths, and now he loves them.
I hope we can get him more “normal” through his OT sessions. The Learning Breakthrough program is also supposed to adjust the tactile sense, as he stands on the balance board with bare feet.
I have yet to figure out how and why MeMe changed extremes for this sense but I have heard from other parents that something similar occurred with their children.
How is your SPD child with touch? What does he like touching and what does he hate? Was he always this way? Share with us!