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How to cope with sensitivity to touch and textures

By Amanda Morin

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People with  sensory processing issues  can be over- or undersensitive to touch or textures. You might hear this called tactile sensitivity. It can make everything from eating to showering a challenge.

When people are sensitive to touch, it’s important to set boundaries and be open about triggers.

For example, it’s easy to feel rejected if your loved one doesn’t like hugging or other shows of affection. You might have to find a different “in” or creative way to be affectionate. A firm squeeze on the shoulder or a “pinky promise” could be your way to say “I love you.”

With kids, model how to set boundaries: “I’m not a big hugger, but I want you to know I’m so glad to see you!” Let them take the lead, too. Instead of wiping smudges off kids’ faces, have them do it themselves. You may need to talk younger kids through fixing it: “You have chocolate on your chin. You can use a wet washcloth to wipe it off.”

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When people are undersensitive to touch, heavy work can help them calm their body. That means doing things that use muscles to push, pull, climb, carry, or lift. Chores like vacuuming and activities like riding a bike, carrying groceries, and even climbing playground equipment are all examples of heavy work.

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Clothing textures and concerns

People who are oversensitive to touch can struggle with the feel of certain fabrics. They may also have trouble transitioning from long sleeves to short sleeves or from pants to shorts.

Dress in layers, like wearing a sweatshirt over a short-sleeved shirt. Try clothes like zip-leg pants. And make the most of the clothes that feel OK. The same outfit in many different colors makes up in comfort what it might lack in style. 

Parents and caregivers: Here are more  clothing solutions for kids with sensory processing issues .

Food texture and “picky eaters”

Some picky eaters may refuse to eat certain foods not just because of the taste, but because of the texture. They may only be able to tolerate the texture of a particular brand and flavor of a food. You may not notice the difference, but people with tactile sensitivity do.

Kids in particular may get upset if different foods are combined. Try using divided plates to keep foods separate. Or serve casserole ingredients individually. For instance, if you’re making shepherd’s pie, set aside some of the meat, mashed potatoes, and vegetables before you assemble the pie.

Find out how to help with sensitivity to tastes and smells .

Next steps

When people have sensory processing issues, their brain has difficulty organizing and responding to information that comes in through the senses. Certain textures can make them feel overwhelmed and create a feeling of sensory overload. 

Parents and caregivers: Get tips to talk to teachers about sensory issues. 

Educators: Explore classroom accommodations for sensory processing issues

If you’re struggling with sensitivity to touch and textures, check out a fact sheet to share with others.

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