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Sensory Integration Tools: Tips for Tactile Defensiveness

By July 31, 2011 July 6th, 2018 No Comments
2 min read

Helping you become a more effective and patient instructor

As one of the directors of BACC’s E-Programs, I’ve noticed the value of taking time to understand the specific special needs of each child. Without a grasp of what each child’s strengths and weaknesses are, there is no way for measuring genuine improvement in physical activity. Whether a coach at E-Soccer, a volunteer at E-Karate, or a parent of child with special needs, it is imperative to be aware of when a child with sensory integration disorder has tactile defensiveness.

In A. Jean Ayres’ book titled Sensory Integration and the Child, tactile defensiveness is defined as the tendency to react negatively and emotionally to touch sensations (Ayre, 2005, p.106). Ayres provides a thorough knowledge of the subject, and for now I will highlight a few key points. For more information and insight, it is encouraged to purchase her book.

All of us react to touch sensations; however, some react more than others. A child with tactile defensiveness can be overly sensitive to sensations that others might barely feel. These negative reactions can cause negative emotions and behaviors. Some kids may hate the feeling of a tag on the back of their shirt, or can feel uncomfortable with physical touch and closeness, and may even dislike walking barefoot in sand.

Here are a few of Ayre’s tips from her book for parents to help children who have tactile defensiveness (Ayre, 2005, p.112):

  • Treating it as an emotional or behavioral problem will more likely make it worse.
  • Light, ticklish touch is more irritating than firm pressure. Using the palm of your hand to touch your child may make touch less irritating than when using your fingertips
  • Firm massage, or gently “sandwiching” a child between cushions, are examples of activities that may help to “calm down” extra sensitivity to touch.
  • Pay attention to types of fabrics, clothing, play substances, and social situations that seem to elicit negative reactions from your child.
  • “Heavy work” activities such as carrying grocery or laundry bags, wearing a heavy backpack, push/pull games, and jumping activities all provide a type of sensation that tends to calm down or organize tactile sensitivity.
  • It is easy to think that your child is trying to manipulate you or purposefully make your life difficult. Believe him when he tries to tell you that something “hurts.”
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Mike Query

Mike Query

Mike is a digital marketing manager for the Bay Area Christian Church and is a regular contributor to Inspire. He's passionate about web strategy, music, mentorship, and his quest to find the best burrito in the Bay Area.

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