When children are defensive or sensory over-responsive to certain tactile input, it can really affect their ability to function. Some children are sensitive to tags in their shirts, touching sticky or gooey things (like glue or finger paint), walking barefoot in grass or light touch. Others may crave touch with a desire to touch everything they walk by, which can get a child in trouble at school.
Many of you may have heard about the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol and I have used this a lot in the past, but most recently I have switched my thinking to not following a specific protocol of brushing because there is no clear research behind it. I suggest using a variety of brushes while teaching the child how to brush themselves. Allow the child to control how each unique brush feels on their skin. Additionally, introduce them to:
- Loufa scrubs in the shower
- A good towel rub down after the bath
- Lotion massage
Start with Proprioceptive Input
When you are working with a child who is defensive to certain tactile input, the best way to approach that sensitivity is to not focus initially on the tactile system, but start with the proprioceptive system. Gaining proprioceptive input will help to regulate the child and prepare them for new tactile experiences. Some simple suggested activities include:
- wall push-ups
- crawling through a ball pit
- carry heavy objects
- rearranging furniture
Organize the Sensory System with Vestibular Input
As you are focusing on proprioceptive input, also think about vestibular input. Give the child the opportunity to create an obstacle course with various equipment, head to the playground or create vestibular activities at home.
Vestibular activities can provide the child with various input to help organize their sensory systems.
Slowly Introduce New Tactile Media
Then you can slowly introduce tactile media play. Rice and beans bins can be fun for kids. If they are resistant to touching the media, have them drive a car through, or use sand box tools.
Additions tactile suggestions:
- cornstarch and water
- shaving cream
- bath foam
- Goop & Pud
Tactile Aversion to Foods
Sometimes children can begin to touch certain media, but still won’t touch or eat certain foods. You can also play with foods like pudding, ketchup, yogurt, etc.
Dipping foods like carrots or vegetables into ranch dressing might get some of the ranch on their finger or hand. Have a wet cloth to wipe their hands if they get upset about it.
Remember too, our skin is the largest sensory organ and the information we receive from our skin tells us a lot about our environment. It is easy for tactile defensive children to experience a fight or flight response with certain tactile input. If you have serious concerns about your child’s sensory sensitivities, consult an occupational therapist to work on a specific program for your child’s needs.