Is your Child Touch Sensitive?

Closeup of a scared boy with his eyes closed tight.

How can you tell if your child is touch sensitive?

  • Does your child cringe when you stroke his face?
  • Must he have all the labels cut out of his clothing before he will wear them?
  • Does your child refuse to wear certain fabrics, such as wool because it is scratchy?
  • Does your child refuse to touch anything sticky, slimy, or dirty with his hands?
  • Does washing or brushing your child’s hair result in a major battle?
  • Does your child hate to have his feet touched?

It could be that your child has a sensory motor integration deficit known as tactile defensiveness or touch sensitivity.

What is Touch Sensitivity?

The 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. This is how we connect most closely with our spouses.

Touch 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.

In 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.

Children 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.

Sensory motor integration deficits need not affect a child’s learning ability, but his 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.

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Anthony Kane, MD has been helping parents of ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder children online since 2003. Join over three thousand parents and get help for your Oppositional Defiant Disorder child, help with defiant out of control teens and ADHD treatment and ADHD information.

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