It is fall, which means it is the start of sweater weather. Have you ever bought a sweater that was absolutely adorable, but when you put it on you were so itchy or uncomfortable that you could not think well during work, or found yourself irritable? Maybe you have bought outfits for your family to wear during a fall photoshoot and everyone looks perfect, but when you went to sit your child on the muddy ground they started rolling in the mud and putting it all over themselves. Or, maybe during that photoshoot you handed them a damp, bumpy pumpkin to hold and they started screaming! These responses can be linked to your tactile (touch) sensory system.
When we think about our sense of touch, it is typical to only think about our hands and what sensory experiences they have. Actually, our sense of touch registers pain, pressure, texture, and temperature sensations experienced on any part of our body; our touch receptors live in the skin covering our whole body! Your body may be under-responsive to touch, which means you seek more of it (think touching every item as you pass by it in a store), or over-responsive to touch (ie, your child responding negatively to the seam in their sock). It is important to build awareness around your own tactile sensory system because being over or under-responsive regarding tactile sensory input is not as simple as “I do or do not like how that feels.” Moreover, an over or under response to certain tactile sensations can cause dysregulation and challenge to even think throughout the day.
With that in mind, we want to help you explore and support your and your family’s tactile sensory preferences and possible sensitivities!
One way to identify some sensory preferences you have, or your child has, in relation to your sense of touch is by thinking about the following questions:
Do you like your hair up or down?
Do you like wet hair or dry hair?
Do you like having your hair brushed?
What kind of clothing material do you like? What do you not like?
Do you like tight clothes or loose clothes?
What textures do you like to touch? What textures do you not like to touch?
Do you notice when you get bruises or cuts?
Maybe thinking about those questions or attempting to imagine what it would be like does not work for you; maybe you are someone who needs to DO in order to know. Another way to explore sensory preferences for yourself or your child is to engage in the following experiences that target your tactile system. As you try them out, notice how it feels and if you like the feeling of it.
Have a variety of fidgets around to explore, figure out what you like/don’t like
Make a sensory tub! Fill it with rice, lentils, sand, kinetic sand, orbeez/water beads
Messy play! Shaving cream on a table provides a great tactile experience. For younger children, or try pudding!
Try on different types of clothing materials, see which ones feel best! Make it a game to include your child and play dress up. Halloween is a perfect time to try on all sorts of new textures and fabrics.
Now that you have explored your sense of touch and maybe even identified some preferences you or your child has. It is important to recognize if your responses are neutral or are indicative of a sensitivity to your touch sense. One way to identify if you have an over, under, or neutral responsivity to tactile experiences is by exploring this handout.
If at this point you are noticing that you or your child may have a sensitivity to touch, there is no need to worry. There are professionals who are trained to assess, identify, and support sensory sensitivities and sensory processing disorders. Seeking out a professional for more information, assessment, and support is encouraged. In the meantime, we have listed some activities and guidelines to support both over and under responsivity to tactile experiences!
Supportive activities for an over response to tactile experiences:
Allowing yourself and/or your child to say no to hugs from family or friends, also helps with using words to give permission or consent to be touched or touch others.
Providing a comfortable distance between others in line, maybe encouraging your child to line up first or last at school
Encouraging your child to engage themselves with a foam roller, self-massager, or weighted blanket to build tolerance for their tactile sensitivity.
Showing them other games to play with friends that do not involve touch: skipping rocks, nature eye-spy, video games, racing, obstacle courses, etc.
Supportive activities for an under response to tactile experiences:
Encouraging the use of fidgets, especially when trying to focus during school or at home
Allow children to assist you in cooking and gardening
Create cozy forts and/or tight spaces
Encourage weighted blankets and sensory socks
Heavier or tighter clothing options
For more information on the tactile sensory system and Sensory Processing Disorder, please visit any of the links below.