This month we are highlighting a very important sensory system, the tactile system. The tactile sensory system is responsible for detecting touch, ranging from pain, temperature, pressure, and vibration. Receptors on our skin identify various touch sensations and send signals to our brains. Sometimes our brains have a difficult time processing certain touch sensations, specifically light touch. One of the most common tactile challenges for children with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), is known as tactile defensiveness.
Tactile defensiveness means there are certain touch sensations you do not like and you do your best to avoid them as much as possible. Children who experience tactile defensiveness may struggle with tolerating the bristles on a tooth brush, washing their hair, wearing tight clothing, standing in lines close to others, wearing clothes with tags, and eating foods with certain textures. The level of intolerance varies, but can be debilitating for some children.
While you may want to “fix” your children’s tactile sensitivities, you will most likely not change their preferences. However, you can provide resources and tools to best support your children. The ultimate goal is to help your children function in their day to day lives.
Below are some tips that may help!
- Introduce various messy play experiences
- Begin with dry materials that are smooth (dried beans)
- Once that is tolerated, work on introducing rougher dry materials (dried rice, dried noodles, rocks)
- Next, try sand or kinetic sand
- Slowly phase into wet materials (shaving cream, paint with fingers, slime)
- Model trying different foods in front of your child and express how much you enjoy the food.
- Verbally offer your child choices. For example, “Do you prefer corn or green beans?
- Provide a verbal warning before your child experiences a light touch sensation (e.g. “We are going to the movies today and while waiting to get our candy, we might need to stand in line with others.”)
- Use visual schedules to help anticipate certain touch sensations, such as hair or teeth brushing
- Heavy work can help in calming the body when overstimulated by touch sensations. Some examples include:
- Animal walks (bear, crab)
- Moving heavy furniture
- Army crawl
If you find that your children are unable to participate in their daily lives due to extreme tactile sensitivities, consider talking with your NF specialist about occupational therapy. For your convenience, we have an occupational therapist on staff in the NF Center (that would be me!)
Stay tuned as we continue exploring our sensory systems!
– Madeline Scherr, MS, OTR/L