In pediatric occupational therapy, we often encounter children who experience sensory issues. Children can present with difficulty in any of the seven sensory areas. See the Chicago Occupational Therapy blog post “What is Sensory Processing?” for more information about the different sensory areas and processing skills. Tactile defensiveness is one type of sensory response that can be directly treated in occupational therapy.
Touch receptors, which are located all over our skin, help us interpret what we feel, including pain, temperature, and texture. Children who are tactile defensive present with heightened sensitivity to tactile input, including textures, foods, fabrics, and surfaces.When a child is defense to tactile input, they might recoil when someone attempts to hug them or find a tag on their clothing to be painful.
While these behaviors may seem extreme to someone who does not experience sensory issues, these behaviors are a direct result of how the brains process sensory information. When working with children who are tactile defensive, there are many ways to make play fun and effective to increase regulation and decrease defensiveness! Read below for 5 fun at home OT approved tactile play activities!
5 types of OT-approved tactile play
Texture balloons: Use a funnel to fill small balloons with different textures (rice, water beads, beads, sand, etc). These are a great way to introduce your child to new textures in a controlled way. As they become more comfortable, removing the texture from inside the balloon and your child to interact with them in a sensory bin is an upgrade to continue to build comfort and reduce sensitivity.
Finger painting: This is an oldie, but goodie! Painting with hands and fingers can help a child to build their tactile processing by encouraging them to get their hands dirty while playing. Allow your child to touch paint with one finger first, and then upgrade them to engage with more fingers, and then their whole hand when they feel comfortable.
Sensory bins: Creating a sensory bin is a great way to expose your child to an array of different textures. Fill a plastic bin or bowl with textures (e.g., beans, water beads, rice, sand). You can pick different toys (puzzles, legos, etc) to hide in sensory bin to encourage exploration!
Shaving cream: With shaving cream from the store, spray a small amount on a table or floor and encourage your child to smell, touch, and interact with it. If they are hesitant to interact with it at first, use a paint brush or straw to move the shaving cream around. Demonstrating how you can smell, touch and interact is a great way to help build their confidence, too!
Fabric boxes: Save empty tissue boxes and when you have a few, collect several different fabrics/textures from around the house (e.g., feathers, rough velcro material, soft towels). Place the items inside the empty boxes and have your child reach in to the box to explore each texture. Have them describe what they feel as they explore!
How occupational therapy can help with tactile-defensiveness
A pediatric occupational therapist can help your child to address their sensory needs. After completing an evaluation (See the Chicago Occupational Therapy blog post “What to expect from an Occupational Therapy Evaluation” for more information about evaluations), the therapist will be able to create a treatment plan with extensive exercises to work on processing tactile information.
Do you believe that your child could improve their tactile play skills through occupational therapy? Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services and how we can help your child flourish and grow.