Tactile Dysfunction

Tactile Dysfunction

Imagine spending the day in a shirt made of scratchy burlap. Your shoes are two sizes too small, and there’s an industrial-sized fan blowing directly in your face. When you try to eat a bowl of cereal, the texture is like gravel in your mouth, and when you brush your teeth it feels like steel wool against your gums.

This is what tactile dysfunction can feel like. The word “tactile” refers to the sense of touch, and tactile dysfunction (also known as tactile sensitivity) is a form of sensory dysfunction that causes that sense to be heightened to the point of discomfort or even pain.

Children with tactile dysfunction feel certain sensations more strongly than most people do. What might be a minor annoyance to one person can be extremely uncomfortable for a person with tactile sensitivity. Shoes that are laced a bit too snugly might feel as if they’re painfully tight; certain fabrics can feel scratchy; the textures of some foods can be so off-putting that your child can’t eat them at all. If your child has a tactile dysfunction, he may be very sensitive to heat and cold, or to the sensation of water or wind hitting his skin.

Kids with tactile sensitivity might show the following signs:

  • Complaining about clothing or shoes, even though they seem to fit fine and are made out of fabrics that are usually comfortable
  • Objecting to having their hair cut or combed, or having their teeth brushed
  • Dislikes getting dirty
  • Dislikes activities such as finger painting or playing with “squishy” art supplies such as modeling dough or clay
  • Appearing to be “picky eaters” because certain food textures are hard to tolerate
  • Flinching or turning away when the wind blows against their face
  • Complaining about mild changes in temperature: feeling too hot or too cold when the air is actually temperate.

It’s important to note that children who have a tactile dysfunction aren’t just being difficult or picky. These sensations on their skin are very real; they simply process those sensations differently than other people do. Tactile dysfunction can cause delays in your child’s development, but with the help of a qualified occupational therapist, those delays can be addressed and often corrected. Children learn by playing and exploring, and tactile sensitivity can make that difficult, even for kids who really want to be out there doing those things. An occupational therapist will work with you and your child to develop a plan to increase tolerance to different tactile sensations. The goal is to make the world feel better to your child, so that he can be as comfortable as possible as he learns and grows.

If you think your child might have a tactile dysfunction, let’s talk about scheduling an evaluation with an occupational therapist. We’re here to help.

Tactile Dysfunction
-April Fox, Staff Writer
Carolina Pediatric Therapy © May 2014

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