By Amanda Morin
Kids with sensory processing issues can be over- or undersensitive to touch. This can make everything from eating foods with various textures to showering a challenge. Here are some ways to help your child cope with tactile sensitivity.
When you need to touch your child, make sure he sees you coming and that you tell him before you do anything. For instance, try saying things like, “I need to wash your hair. I’m going to drizzle water on your head first.”
It can be hard not to feel rejected if your child doesn’t like casual hugs or having his hair stroked. But you might just have to find a different “in” to being affectionate. Check with your child—maybe a firm squeeze on the shoulder or a “pinky promise” can be your special way to say “I love you.”
Physical contact can be a stressor for kids with tactile sensitivity. Teach your child it’s OK to set boundaries with friends and relatives. You can begin by modeling how to say it. For instance, “I’m not a big hugger, but I’m so glad to see you, Aunt Mabel!”
If your child underreacts to touch, he may not recognize pain as you would expect. Point out events that are typically painful (a bumped head or minor burn). Explain that he should pay attention to them and tell an adult when they occur. (You can also point out situations on TV or in real life when a child reacts to pain.)
Undersensitive kids also need to be taught about situations they may not perceive as dangerous because they don’t “feel” them. That includes bitter cold weather and blazing heat.
If your child has trouble sleeping at night, consider adding a few more blankets. The extra weight can provide the deep pressure some kids need for their bodies to be calmer.
You can also purchase weighted blankets. They’re costly, but they provide the pressure without the added heat of extra covers.
When your child is doing things that use his muscles to push, pull, climb, carry or lift, occupational therapists call it “heavy work.” For kids who are undersensitive to touch, it can help calm and organize the body.
Some chores like vacuuming and activities like riding a bike, pushing a shopping cart, carrying groceries and even climbing playground equipment are all examples of heavy work.
Kids 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.
Consider letting your child wear a sweatshirt over a short-sleeved shirt and investing in clothes like zip-leg pants. When warmer weather comes around, he only has to get used to the feel of bare arms and legs. He’s not adjusting to the feel of new collars or waistbands, too.
Did you find a pair of pants, texture of tights or type of shoe your child wears with ease? Make the most of it! Wearing the same outfit in many different colors makes up in comfort for what it might lack in style. And think about buying the next size up, too.
Here are more clothing solutions for kids with sensory processing issues.
It’s tempting to wipe a smudge off your child’s face or brush the lint off his shirt. But if he’s sensitive to touch, it may be better to point out what’s amiss and have him do it himself.
You may need to talk a younger child through fixing it. For instance, “You have some chocolate on your chin. The napkin didn’t clean it off. Why don’t you go use a wet washcloth to wipe it off?”
Does your child refuse to eat certain foods? It may be the texture, not the taste. You may not be able to notice differences in texture, but your child may. If he doesn’t like smooth peanut butter, he may happily eat the crunchy kind. It’s also possible your child will eat yogurt (or another new food), but can only tolerate the texture of a particular brand and flavor.
Your child might get upset if different food textures combine in his mouth. But that doesn’t mean you always have to make him a separate dish. Consider buying divided plates to separate foods. You can also 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.
For some hypersensitive kids, bath time struggles aren’t over getting clean, but over drying off. Your child’s towel may be too soft or too rough for his comfort. Consider taking him shopping to test out the feel of different types of towels and washcloths. He can choose ones that he’s comfortable using.
Does your child shy away from touching sticky, slimy or gooey things? He doesn’t have to avoid art projects. Stock up on large glue sticks or glue dots instead of squeeze glue. You can also invest in paint markers or sponge-tip squeeze bottles, instead of brush or finger paints.
In the meantime, if your child is working with an occupational therapist, you can come up with a plan to phase in traditional art supplies that aren’t yet comfortable for your child.
Some kids will gravitate toward gooey and sticky instead of avoiding it. You can create sensory bins for your child to play with. Fill a small plastic bin with things like sand, rice, beans, shaving cream or water, and add small toys. It can help contain the mess while meeting your child’s sensory needs.
Your child may also fiddle with objects. Give him sensory-friendly fidgets (such as a stress or Koosh ball, Silly Putty or rubber bands). He can carry a fidget in his pocket and won’t bother other people’s things.
Kids with sensory processing issues can be over- or undersensitive to visual stimulation. This can make everything from studying to falling asleep a challenge. Here are some ways to help your child cope with visual sensitivity.
You might come across these terms as you learn more about sensory processing issues (sometimes called “sensory processing disorder”). Understanding terminology can make it easier to talk to teachers, doctors and specialists about sensory processing issues.
A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.
Bob Cunningham, M.A., Ed.M.
Jan 19, 2015
Jan 19, 2015
Understanding Sensory Processing Issues
4 Common Myths About Sensory Processing Issues
Checklist: How to Help With Sensory Processing Issues
Sensory Processing Issues: What You’re Seeing in Your Preschooler
Summertime Challenges for Kids With Sensory Processing Issues
Are Sensory Processing Issues a Learning Disability?
@aspiegram: That's a great question. Hanes makes seamless socks for boys--they're the only ones my kids will wear because of that. I don't know if they make girl's socks, but there's a brand called Tootsies that does. If you're an online shopper, this article on Friendship Circle, 8 Online Stores to Purchase Sensory Friendly Clothing, has been a great resource for me! www.friendshipcircle.org/.../8-online-stores-to-purchase-sensory-friendly-clothing
Does anyone have a source for seamless socks for a 7 year old little girl? She has made great strides with SPD, but finding socks that she can tolerate is a battle. ..and she really tries. We live in the Chicago atea, so going without in the winter is not a viable option.
For LD, ADHD and Dyslexia Awareness Months, we’re launching a special campaign to help you and your child #BeUnderstood.
Here are seven tips for starting the conversation.
Lola Álvarez was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was a young girl in Mexico.
How one young woman debunked the myth and became an athlete.
Oct 27th at 2:00 pm
Looking to help your child build motor skills? Try video games that incorporate movement.
From judgment to blame, 8 things a mom wishes you knew about parenting a child with ADHD.
Follow the steps to learn what documents you need and what order to put them in.
How does the brain of a child with dyslexia work differently? Watch this video to find out.
Sign up for your weekly email newsletter, for you and your family.
This email is already subscribed to Understood newsletters. If you haven't been receiving anything, add firstname.lastname@example.org to your safe-senders list.
Don’t worry—we saved what you wrote.
Sign up to get personalized recommendations and connect with parents and experts in our community.
Only members can view and participate in conversations.
Child’s nickname is private and only you can see it.