The Importance of Touch: Understanding Tactile Sensitivity

EEsther September 17, 2023 7:02 AM

Every sensation plays a crucial role in our lives. One such vital sensation is touch, which serves as the basis for human interaction, emotion, and learning. For children, particularly, the sense of touch—scientifically known as 'tactile sensitivity'—is immensely important for their overall development. This article will delve into understanding tactile sensitivity, its significance, and how to manage it effectively in children.

What is Tactile Sensitivity?

Tactile sensitivity, or tactile defensiveness, is a condition where an individual experiences discomfort or distress with touch. This doesn't just refer to human touch, but the feel of certain materials, surfaces, and textures can also trigger discomfort. For children with tactile sensitivity, everyday tasks like dressing, eating, and playing can become challenging, causing them to react differently.

Signs and Symptoms of Tactile Sensitivity

The symptoms of tactile sensitivity can vary from child to child. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  • Discomfort or avoidance of certain clothes and fabrics
  • Trouble with fine motor skills, such as writing or buttoning shirts
  • Avoiding certain foods due to their texture
  • Overreacting to light touches
  • Difficulty tolerating routine grooming tasks like hair brushing, teeth brushing, or nail clipping

Causes of Tactile Sensitivity

Tactile sensitivity is often linked to disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). However, every child with tactile sensitivity doesn't necessarily have these conditions. There could be other underlying causes as well, like a traumatic event or an overall heightened sensitivity to sensory input.

Managing Tactile Sensitivity

Managing tactile sensitivity requires patience, understanding, and an individualized approach. Here are some effective techniques:

  1. Sensory Integration Therapy: This therapy, usually performed by an occupational therapist, involves exposing the child to various textures in a controlled setting to help them become less sensitive over time.

  2. Desensitization Activities: Activities like playdough, sand play, or finger painting can help a child become comfortable with different textures.

  3. Deep Pressure Activities: These include hugs, using weighted blankets, or exercises like pushing a weighted cart, which have been found to help reduce sensitivity.

  4. Creating a Sensory Diet: A 'sensory diet' (which has nothing to do with food) involves a schedule of physical activities tailored to a child's specific needs, helping them to stay calm and focused.

The Role of Touch in Child Development

The sense of touch is critical in child development. It helps children explore the world around them, learning about different textures, temperatures, and surfaces. It's also essential for social bonding, emotional development, and building motor skills.

As a parent or caregiver, understanding tactile sensitivity can go a long way in helping a child navigate their way comfortably in the world. Remember, it's always best to consult a healthcare professional if you notice signs of tactile sensitivity in your child to get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

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