Your Child Touch Sensitive?
by Anthony Kane, MD.
your child cringe when you stroke his face?
he have all the labels cut out of his clothing before he will wear
your child refuse to wear certain fabrics, such as wool because
it is scratchy?
your child refuse to touch anything sticky, slimy, or dirty with
washing or brushing your child's hair result in a major battle?
your child hate to have his feet touched?
could be that your child has a sensory motor integration deficit
known as tactile defensiveness or touch sensitivity.
is Touch Sensitivity?
sense of touch is essential for normal social and emotional development.
It is this system that allows us to make the deepest connections
with others. It is through touch that the mother and child bond
to each other. We connect most closely with our spouses through
also serves a protective function. It is through tactile discomfort
or pain that we realize that things like fire are dangerous. Painful
or unpleasant touch experiences tell us to prepare for a physical
threat that might require a need to run away or retaliate.
some people this tactile sensory system is not functioning properly.
These people experience pain or distress from touch sensations that
other people find non-threatening or even pleasant. These people
have sensory integration disorder known as tactile defensiveness
or touch sensitivity.
with touch sensitivity are often in the state of "red alert".
Many of the sensations that we take as meaningless, they view as
a physical threat. Children with touch sensitivity also experience
tactile sensations differently than others. Something that we experience
as smooth can seem to them painful.
The result is that often their behavior is affected. Casual contact
can cause what others view as extreme and inappropriate reactions.
These children may whine cling lash out or run away as a result
of normal things in their environment.
motor integration deficits need not affect a child's learning ability,
but the resulting reaction often does. Because the child is frequently
on the defense, he can be emotionally insecure and extremely distractible.
This is one of the things that differentiate touch sensitivity from
ADHD. ADHD children
have difficulty sustaining attention, but they are not more easily
distracted than other children. Small stimuli that would not affect
an ADHD child who is engaged in an activity, may cause disturb a
touch sensitive child.
give you an idea of how these children experience the world, imagine
the feeling you have when someone scrapes his nails along a blackboard,
or the feeling you have when you cut your nails too short. This
is how a touch sensitive child might experience a warm caress. There
is a difference, however. When
you cut your nails too short, it bothers you for a while, but the
discomfort goes away. If a child is touch sensitive, the discomfort
never goes away.
child may not be able to wear his dress pants because the feel of
wool is too uncomfortable to bear. He may not be able to concentrate
in school because he is enduring the hardness of the chair or the
rush of air blowing on him from the ventilation system. He may be
quick to lash out when another child bumps him, because of the perceived
attack by the other child. He may be unable to make friends because
of the fear of being bumped prevents him from interacting in a normal
with a sensory integration disorder may have problems in their relationships
with their spouses. Normal daily contact may disturb them, and they
may avoid physical contact with their spouses even when such contact
is appropriate. This desire not to be touchedcan have a seriously
negative impact on a marriage.
You Might See
are some of the things that may indicate that your child is touch
sensitive. Your child may be touch sensitive if he:
Reacts strongly to sensations that most people don't notice.
Tries to avoid tactile experiences.
Gets distracted because of the things that are touching him are
Insists on having certain textures of clothing.
Makes you cut all the tags and labels out of his clothing.
Won't eat certain foods because of their texture.
Craves certain sensations the he finds calming, like rocking or
Fights irrationally when you are combing or shampooing his hair,
cutting his fingernails, or brushing his teeth.
adults and children with sensory motor integration deficits the
palms of the hands, soles of feet, mouth and tongue are usually
most sensitive areas.
sensitivity is a sensory integration problem. Although this disorder
can exist by itself, more often it is part of a constellation of
other problems that children have. Children with touch sensitivity
often have the following other disorders:
Motor coordination problems
Speech and language delays
Hand-eye coordination difficulties
Motor planning difficulties
Frequent ear infections
Poor eating habits
Problems with digestion & elimination
High anxiety and emotional insecurity
addition there are a number of medical disorders that commonly have
touch sensitivity as a component. These include:
Obsessive compulsive disorder
so many other disorders of the brain and complex neurological function,
we do not know why children and adults have sensory integration
disorders. In medicine, when we don't know the cause of something
we like to say that the cause is idiopathic. This is a term which
is a term derived from Greek or Latin or some other dead language,
which means "we don't know."
as scientists, not knowing something makes us very uncomfortable.
Therefore there a number of theories on what causes disturbances
in sensory processing. There are at least five competing hypotheses.
The most recent research suggests that the abnormality may lie in
the cerebellum, the part of the brain that modulates sensory motor
activity. There might be something to these theories. However, based
upon the review of current literature it seems to me clearly, that
the cause of touch sensitivity is idiopathic.
Should You Do Next?
sensitivity is a sensory motor integration deficit. The goal of
treatment is to repair the sensory processing disorder by giving
the child a means to develop his or her sensory integration. The
goal of therapy is to normalize sensory integration and motor planning
by improving the way the nervous
system registers and interprets tactile information.
of touch sensitivity is usually done under the auspices of an occupational
therapist. If you feel that your child may have touch sensitivity
you should first try to confirm the diagnosis by going to someone
who is trained in diagnosing sensory integration problems. You should
first consult your
pediatrician with your concern and try to get a referral to a Pediatric
Occupational Therapy Service for diagnosis and treatment. They will
manage your child's treatment plan and teach you what you can do
at home to help your child.
sensitivity is one of a number of sensory motor integration deficits
that affect children. It often accompanies other disorders such
as ADHD, Bipolar disorder, and other developmental childhood disorders.
not seen any statistics, but it seems that sensory integration disorders
are fairly common. This condition can be severely handicapping.
However, it is often very treatable. If you feel that your child
may have this condition, it is definitely in your child's best interest
to have a thorough evaluation by an Occupational therapist trained
in sensory integration and motor planning.
Anthony Kane, MD is a physician, an international lecturer, and
director of special education. He is the author of a book, numerous
articles, and a number of online programs dealing with ADHD treatment
child behavior and discipline (http://addadhdadvances.com/child-behavior.html),
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