In the KC metro area, we have had record snowfall with more to come. Most kids find this is exciting as they are missing school and have plenty of snow to build forts, snowmen, and have snowball fights. For kids with tactile dysfunction, the desire to play in the snow along with the discomfort of the clothing necessary can cause anxiety, stress, and meltdowns.
What does tactile dysfunction look like?
Because the skin is the largest organ of the body, tactile dysfunction can cause problems for nearly every activity. It’s impossible to do anything without involving the skin, and because of that, tactile dysfunction can be extremely disruptive. It affects the clothes that you wear, the food that you eat, the way you wear your hair, how you take care of yourself (grooming), your relationships with others, and more.
Things that the average person takes for granted as slightly uncomfortable, can cause extreme pain for those with tactile dysfunction. On the flip side, some kids with tactile dysfunction may appear to have an unusually high pain tolerance, and may put themselves in dangerous situations to receive a stronger feeling to their skin receptors.
There are three forms of tactile dysfunction.
- Hypersensitivity to touch
- Hyposensitivity to touch
- Tactile perception and discrimination
How does a kiddo with tactile dysfunction behave?
Before looking at how a kiddo behaves we must understand that sensory processing disorders (SPD) are neurological. In people with SPDs, the brain perceives information from the affected senses differently than the average person. SPD, just like most neurological disorders, is inconsistent at best. A kiddo can have a really, bad/off day on Monday and an average or better than average day on Tuesday. These inconsistencies can make it appear that the kiddo is lying about being uncomfortable or in pain, or that he/she has “behavior problems” caused by passive parenting.
Kiddos can be both hypersensitive and hyposensitive to touch. It all depends on how the brain perceives the information at that particular moment on that particular day. With as frustrating as it is for the adults, imagine how difficult it is for the kiddos. Especially the young one who has difficulty explaining what he/she is feeling. How can he/she explain why the wind is painful and scary one day and wonderfully exhilarating the next. After wearing clothes all day, it may feel necessary for a kiddo with tactile dysfunction to strip to his/her undies. The feeling of the clothing on his/her skin may be unbearable. Taking a shower with all those little water droplets constantly hitting the skin makes showering insufferable.
Getting kids dressed in the morning for school may cause arguing and meltdowns. Some kids may find clothes uncomfortable due to the seams and tags, and find the material too rough or scratchy. Others may find the clothes too soft or protective. Meltdowns can ensue due to the inability to express how clothes or grooming or everyday tasks don’t feel right or are painful. It’s easy for parents and teachers to trivialize what is being said by calling the kiddo overly dramatic or too sensitive and telling the kiddo to buck up or not be such a baby.
What can I do to help my kiddo?
The most important thing you can do is believe you kiddo and believe that they are in pain. Even though it doesn’t make sense. Letting him/her know that you will be supportive and try to help however you can.
Helping your kiddo is imperative and seeking help from an occupational therapist certified in sensory processing disorders is the best place to start. In the Kansas City metro, you can contact Childrens Mercy PT/OT clinic at 816-234-3380 or have a referral sent from your child’s pediatrician. The clinic will then send you a packet to fill out as well as a questionaire for your child’s school. Once you have completed the questionnaires and returned them to the clinic, an appointment will be set up for an evaluation.
Look for more articles about tactile dysfunction this week.
For more information about the PT/OT clinic at Childrens Mercy go to Childrens Mercy Occupational Therapy Clinic