Tactile defensiveness is a term used to describe the reaction that occurs when someone is very sensitive to touch. This may cause them to struggle with self care sensations and become very
distressed by unexpected touch.
Possible tactile sensitivity symptoms:
Dislike of labels in clothing or avoid certain textures or materials of clothing
• Dislikes socks, especially the seams and has a preference for the position of sock seams
• Unable to tolerate suncreams on the skin
• Cuddles or affection on their terms only
• Avoiding messy play textures or particularly sensitive to food texture
• Distress with haircutting, brushing or nail cutting
• Avoidance of teeth brushing
Jean Ayres (sensory integration guru) thought tactile hypersensitivity occurs because the brain pays too much attention to light touch and protective sensations from the skin. These sensations help to keep us safe by alerting us to danger. Therefore when light touch sensations happen the brain initially expects there to be danger and the body goes into a state of fight/ flight or freeze. Consequently children that have touch processing difficulties can often experience meltdowns, distress or avoid everyday touch sensations because they are painful, confusing or distressing.