Your child may have sensory processing difficulties if she/he hates wearing school uniform and constantly complains’ about certain materials and labels. These children can’t tolerate certain T-shirt as it is itchy or they always wear their sock inside out as the can’t tolerate the socks’ seams. Majority of these children prefer to wear shorts instead of trousers.

Clothing challenges are a common issue among people with autism. However, children who have Sensory Processing Difficulties (SPD) can be also sensitive to touch sensation. These children are hypersensitive to light touch. It is more to do with the sensation of something against the skin than it does with sensitivity to only one type of texture or fabric.

Our skin has different receptors; one group are light touch receptors and another group are deep touch receptors.

When a child is hypersensitive to touch it is likely his/her “light touch” receptors are over-working. Deep touch receptors give what is considered “inhibitory” or calming input to the brain. When light touch receptors are working more than deep touch receptors the balance of sensation is off and a child may feel over-stimulated. Hence, he/she presents with avoiding behaviour, which means the child refuses to wear his uniform.

Strategies that might encourage the child to wear the school uniform are:

  • Offer deep touch pressure before your child gets dressed: massage, big hugs, rubbing the skin gently with a loofah or brush can be very useful.
  • Firm rhythmic rubbing may reduce sensitivity.
  • Neutral warmth and pressure (blanket, cubby). I have encouraged parents to try having the child sit for a few minutes before getting dressed, wrapped snugly in a warm towel or blanket.

General Attitude

  • Understanding – don’t force the child into touching something – they are not
    just being naughty.
  • Avoid sensations they don’t like. Overloading does not help – it makes it worse.
  • Trying to explain will not help. The stimulus may really be irritating to the child even if it is not to you.
  • Behaviour modification is not the answer here. Promising to be good will just make them feel guilty when they are unable to avoid overreacting to stimuli.

Please contact High Five Children’s OT if your child needs support to reduce tactile defensiveness.