Tactile Defensiveness Treatment

Discover transformative tactile defensiveness treatment strategies to better manage Autism sensory challenges.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
June 6, 2024

Tactile Defensiveness Treatment

Understanding Tactile Defensiveness

Tactile defensiveness is a common issue experienced by individuals with Autism. Understanding this condition and its implications is the first step towards finding effective tactile defensiveness treatment.

Definition and Characteristics

Tactile defensiveness, also known as tactile hypersensitivity or tactile sensitivity, is characterized by an over-responsiveness to tactile input. Specific tactile sensory input may be perceived as noxious, leading to purposeful avoidance or a decrease in the organization of behavior as a response.

Children with tactile defensiveness may exhibit a low threshold for registering a tactile sense. This means they can become overwhelmed by sensations that others might find normal or even pleasant. If you notice that your child is showing an unusual response to sensory input, they may be experiencing tactile defensiveness. For more information on the signs and symptoms, visit our page on tactile defensiveness symptoms.

Sensory Integration and Tactile Sensitivity

Tactile defensiveness is a specific deficit within the larger umbrella of sensory integration. Sensory integration refers to the body's ability to receive, interpret, and respond to sensory information from the environment [1].

Deficits in sensory integration will be apparent if the response to sensory input is not functional. This can lead to challenges in daily life, as the individual may struggle to process and respond appropriately to the world around them. Understanding the role of sensory integration in tactile defensiveness can be crucial in finding the right treatment approach.

One approach to addressing these challenges is Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT). SIT is performed by trained occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech therapists. It targets seven sensations: auditory, visual, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), somatosensory (proprioception and touch), vestibular, and interoception. This therapy is conducted in the context of play, including activities that the child enjoys, ensuring that the activities are their own reward [2]. By improving sensory integration, SIT can help in managing tactile defensiveness.

Tactile defensiveness can be a difficult condition to understand and manage. However, with the right information and support, you can help your child navigate their sensory experiences more effectively. For more information on the causes of tactile defensiveness, visit our page on what causes tactile defensiveness?.

Impact of Tactile Defensiveness

Tactile defensiveness can significantly impact a child's behaviors and daily routines. Understanding these impacts can help parents and caregivers assist children in managing their sensitivities and improve their overall quality of life.

Behavioral Responses

Children with tactile defensiveness often exhibit a low threshold for registering tactile sensations. As a result, they may display a range of behavioral responses to tactile inputs that can be challenging for both the child and their caregivers.

For instance, children who are hypo-responsive or seek touch sensations may not respond to pain in the typical manner. They may be unaware of bruises and injuries due to a lack of pain sensation messages from the brain. This can make them more prone to injuries and may also lead to self-stimulating or self-injurious behaviors.

On the other hand, some children may display oral defensiveness, which refers to an aversion to tactile sensations in and around the mouth. This can impact their feeding habits and make meal times challenging. Treatment for this, such as offering heavy work to the jaw through activities like eating chewy foods, can be helpful.

Daily Challenges

Tactile defensiveness can also lead to daily challenges, affecting routine activities such as dressing, bathing, and participating in social or recreational activities. For instance, children with tactile defensiveness might resist wearing certain types of clothing due to the discomfort they feel from the fabric against their skin. They might also avoid playground activities that involve tactile experiences, such as sand play or finger painting.

Weighted items like blankets or vests can help alleviate these sensitivities by providing a soothing pressure against the skin, stimulating body joints and muscles, and thereby improving self-regulation and reducing anxiety [3].

Similarly, engaging in heavy work activities, such as pushing and pulling heavy objects, can provide proprioceptive input and have calming effects, thus reducing anxiety and improving the child's ability to participate in daily activities.

Understanding and addressing these behavioral responses and daily challenges is an integral part of tactile defensiveness treatment. With appropriate therapeutic approaches and management strategies, children with tactile defensiveness can lead a more comfortable and fulfilling life.

Addressing Tactile Defensiveness

When dealing with tactile defensiveness, it's important to find effective ways to help your child manage their sensory sensitivities. This can be achieved through a range of sensory activities and specific treatments designed to address oral defensiveness.

Sensory Activities for Children

Sensory activities can be a beneficial tool in addressing tactile defensiveness in children. By offering opportunities for graded tactile exploration and regulation, children can gradually become more comfortable with different types of touch and textures. These activities often involve the use of firm pressure, animal walks, and engaging in baking activities, which can help to normalize sensations and improve sensory integration.

In addition to these activities, weighted items such as blankets, vests, or backpacks can help to dampen tactile defensiveness by stimulating body joints and muscles. This can lead to improved self-regulation, modulation, and reduced anxiety in children.

Furthermore, employing heavy work activities, such as pushing and pulling heavy objects or engaging in movement breaks, can provide proprioceptive input which has calming effects and reduces anxiety in children with tactile defensiveness [3].

Oral Defensiveness Treatment

Oral defensiveness refers to an aversion of tactile sensations in and around the mouth. This can be addressed in occupational and feeding therapy which focus on offering heavy work to the jaw, tongue, and muscles of the cheek. Activities such as eating chewy foods or drinking thick smoothies through a straw can help to improve tolerance to various textures and sensations, thereby reducing oral defensiveness [1].

Deep pressure techniques such as firm massage, cuddling, and skin-to-skin contact can also be beneficial. These techniques stimulate the release of dopamine, calming brain activity, relaxing the body, and aiding in managing tactile defensiveness [3].

Addressing tactile defensiveness involves a multifaceted approach, including a variety of sensory activities, therapeutic interventions, and home-based strategies. For more information on this sensory issue, visit our article on tactile defensiveness autism.

Therapeutic Approaches

When dealing with tactile defensiveness, various therapeutic approaches can be employed to help manage and improve the condition. These approaches are often individualized and tailored to the needs of each child, focusing on their unique sensory profile. Here, we delve into two commonly used methods: Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) and Deep Pressure Techniques.

Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT)

Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) is a therapeutic approach often employed in the treatment of tactile defensiveness among other sensory processing conditions. Performed by trained occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and speech therapists, SIT is typically conducted in the context of play, which includes activities that the child enjoys. This ensures that the activities are their own reward, promoting engagement and participation.

SIT targets seven sensations: auditory, visual, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), somatosensory (proprioception and touch), vestibular, and interoception. It is suggested to directly improve attentional, emotional, motor, communication, and social difficulties. It aims to address difficulties in sensory processing, improve adaptive responses, and enhance overall functioning.

This therapy is used to treat conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and various developmental disorders. It's often used in combination with other therapies and interventions tailored to each individual's needs. Collaboration among therapists, parents, and healthcare professionals is vital for personalized care and effective outcomes.

Deep Pressure Techniques

Deep pressure techniques form another crucial part of tactile defensiveness treatment. These techniques involve applying firm but gentle pressure to the body, helping to calm the nervous system and reduce sensory overstimulation. This type of sensory activity can be particularly beneficial for children experiencing tactile defensiveness as it can help to normalize their sensory responses.

Applying deep pressure can be as simple as giving your child a firm hug, wrapping them in a weighted blanket, or using specially designed deep pressure vests. Other activities, such as carrying heavy items or pushing against a wall, can also provide beneficial proprioceptive input.

Deep pressure techniques can be incorporated into your child's daily routine, providing them with regular opportunities to engage in these calming activities. By experimenting with different techniques, you can identify which ones your child responds to best, helping to tailor their tactile defensiveness treatment to their specific needs and preferences.

In conclusion, both Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT) and deep pressure techniques offer promising avenues for addressing tactile defensiveness in children. By working closely with healthcare professionals and therapists, parents can help their children manage and overcome their tactile sensitivities, enhancing their overall quality of life. For more information about tactile defensiveness and its treatment, visit our articles on tactile defensiveness autism and what causes tactile defensiveness?.

Managing Tactile Sensitivities

When managing tactile defensiveness, it's important to note that each child is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Below are some strategies that have been found to be helpful in reducing the symptoms of tactile defensiveness.

Weighted Items and Tools

Weighted items such as blankets, vests, or backpacks can help dampen tactile defensiveness by stimulating body joints and muscles, improving self-regulation, modulation, and anxiety in children. These items provide deep pressure to larger parts of the body, helping the child to focus and reduce distraction [3].

These tools, often used in occupational therapy, can be incorporated into the child's daily routine. For example, a weighted blanket can be used during bedtime or quiet time, a weighted vest can be worn during schoolwork, and a weighted backpack can be used during walks or outings.

The weight of these items should be carefully selected based on the child's weight and comfort level. Always consult with a healthcare professional or an occupational therapist before using weighted items for tactile defensiveness treatment.

Proprioceptive Input Activities

Proprioceptive input activities, also known as "heavy work" activities, can be very beneficial for children with tactile defensiveness. Such activities include pushing and pulling heavy objects, jumping, climbing, or even chewing on a chewable jewelry.

These activities can provide deep pressure to the muscles and joints, helping to calm the sensory system, reduce anxiety, improve concentration, and support the child in better focusing on tasks.

Incorporating these activities into a child’s daily routine can help manage sensory sensitivities. For example, a child could push a heavy laundry basket, participate in a tug-of-war game, or use a therapy ball for bouncing or rolling activities.

Remember, introducing and implementing these strategies should be a gradual process, tailored to the child's comfort level and preferences. Always consult with a healthcare professional or an occupational therapist for personalized advice on managing tactile sensitivities in children with autism.

Research Insights on Tactile Defensiveness

The field of research has provided vital insights into tactile defensiveness, its correlations with other behaviors, and patterns associated with sensory modulation disorder. These findings are instrumental in guiding the development of effective tactile defensiveness treatment strategies.

Correlations with Self-Stimulatory Behaviors

Research by Feig et al. (2012) found a significant relationship between tactile defensiveness and self-stimulatory behaviors [3]. These behaviors can interfere with a child's day-to-day activities like washing, eating, and dressing. This correlation underscores the importance of managing tactile defensiveness in children to enhance their overall quality of life.

Further studies have noted an association between tactile seeking behaviors and increased social impairment and repetitive behaviors in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). These findings underline the multifaceted nature of tactile defensiveness symptoms and their impacts on children's lives. For more information on the signs of tactile defensiveness, refer to our guide on tactile defensiveness symptoms.

Sensory Modulation Disorder Patterns

Sensory modulation disorder often presents three characteristic patterns: "Sensory over-responsivity," "Sensory under-responsivity," and "Sensory seeking/craving". Symptoms of sensory over-responsivity include tactile defensiveness or gravitational insecurity. This disorder is not exclusive to children with autism; children with ADHD also exhibit greater difficulties in sensory modulation.

Moreover, more variability in sensory defensiveness is observed within a group of children with ADHD than within a comparison group. This suggests the existence of two ADHD subgroups distinguished by the presence or absence of sensory modulation dysfunction.

Sensory defensiveness is much more common in children with autism than in typically developing children. This has been substantiated by studies showing substantial differences in sensory defensiveness between children with autism and typically developing groups.

The latest research findings provide a deeper understanding of tactile defensiveness, its impact on children's lives, and how it correlates with other behaviors. This information plays a crucial role in informing treatment strategies and helping parents and therapists manage tactile sensitivities more effectively. For further reading on the causes of tactile defensiveness, visit our article on what causes tactile defensiveness?.


[1]: https://napacenter.org/tactile-defensiveness/

[2]: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Sensory_Integration

[3]: https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/sensory-strategies-handling-tactile-defensiveness/

[4]: https://www.physio-pedia.com/SensoryIntegrationTherapyinPaediatric_Rehabilitation

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3207504/

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5371598/

[7]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4301432/