Occupational Therapy Consulting, LLC


Archive of ‘Parenting’ category

Tactile Defensiveness (think steel wool)

Touch is powerful, to say the least.

I am reminded daily of it’s power, both at home and in my work.  When the sense of touch goes wrong, it can be debilitating.  We rely on our sense of touch to work with the rest of our senses and our body, for so many things we do and the way we interact in so many of our relationships every day.  Whether someone is “touchy feely” or not, the skin marks the point at which our bodies end and the rest of the world begins; it is the physical barrier OR connection to our inner selves and the outside world.

For some however, their sense of touch gives them mis-information about the world around them and because the sense of touch is “distorted” they physically feel bad, much of the time (think steel wool, prickly cactus, or ticklish feeling all day long).  When things feel this way for someone ongoing, they may learn that the world can be a scary or unknown place.  Tactile “distortions” can happen for a myriad of reasons, including abuse & neglect, sensory processing disorder, other diagnoses such as autism, damage to nerves from things like stroke, brain injuries, severe burns, or even diabetes.  Some people have the capacity to compensate for this distorted sense of touch and some do not, depending on the reason for and the type(s) of differences they experience.  That said, the type of touch distortion I see most commonly, in my work with children, is called tactile defensiveness.

Tactile defensiveness is not “injured nerves”, “damaged skin”, or injury of any kind (like one would find as a result of a stroke, a spinal cord injury, burns, or diabetes.  With tactile defensiveness, the brain misinterprets the messages sent by active tactile receptors.  In fact, the receptors may be “over-active” which causes “tactile defensiveness” or tactile hypersensitivity.  The following video does a MUCH better job than I can here of describing “tactile defensiveness” (leave it to interns with lots of energy and grades on the line to show up those of us working in the field):

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A recent resource I bought to share with parents is a book called, “I’ll tell you Why…talking about Tactile Defensiveness.” (Note: I am getting zero compensation for my endorsement of this product.  I simply love it). This book is an aesthetically beautiful presentation of photos, coupled with easy to understand words and prompted blank pages for children to color/draw/write about their own experience of touch.  This book offers encouragement, validation, and information that can lead to understanding, for kids and families who struggle with this extremely real, but frustrating, and sometimes debilitating condition, known as tactile defensiveness.

I am not only an OT, but I am the parent of a child who has struggled with tactile defensiveness at some level, since the day she was born (translation.,,many battles and meltdowns during dressing and still only being able to wear two brands of socks or none at all, specifically putting on shoes and socks at the exact time we are struggling to get things together and get out the door, major freak outs as a toddler that lasted the duration of our entire trip across town because of being buckled into the car seat, arguments over temperatures of foods and bathwater, limited snuggles because sitting too close to people makes her feel “sweaty”, and upset -hers and mine- over hair brushing, face washing, hand washing etc. – or lack thereof).  I FEEL a parent’s pain at the daily challenges of raising a child with tactile defensiveness.  (Sidebar, I consider myself lucky to have had that as one small piece of parenting to contend with, amidst a myriad of other potential challenges that so many parents have to face).  I raise my experience to highlight that tactile defensiveness can be one of those “hidden” challenges, that so many kids (and families) face, not obvious to outside observers, but such an integral part of that child and family’s daily experience, and without support and information for how to address it, it can make family life, less than enjoyable and extremely, NOT what we want our lives to be (how’s that for technical?).

For those parents raising a child with tactile defensiveness and the accompanying struggles that ensue, I encourage the watching of this video for information and the purchase of this book, for at least initiating conversation.  Resources are also included in the book for reference.  Occupational Therapists have strategies that can be useful for addressing tactile defensiveness and with the right interventions, support, and information, life can become a little MORE like we DO want it to be!  (save the steel wool for scrubbing dishes).

Read easier

I have been on a blog-cation.  I wish I could say that translates to mean”fun in the sun and lot’s of down-time” but instead, in my OT world it means “too busy with work and family commitments to spend time blogging.”  Too much work is a good problem to have however, so I am not complaining, but unfortunately it has disconnected me from sharing the resources and inspirations that keep me loving my job.

Which brings me to the purpose for this post…one major thing I DO love about my job is all the great resources I am finding for supporting kids and families at home.  A resource I have recently come across that intrigues me and seems to be a WONDERFUL fit for my model of practice and sensory integration framework, is the “Easy Read System“. These folks appreciate ALL the components that go into a child’s ability to read and they have been kind enough to “guest blog” for me today about how eye tracking impacts reading ability!  I see this often, in my practice and so:

  • If a child is struggling to read,
  • Doesn’t like reading despite being on grade level with reading
  • Frequently rubs their eyes or has watery eyes during reading
  • Is holding their head to one side or covering one eye when they read, or tilts their head funny while reading
  • Frequently loses their place on a page or complains of blurred vision or words “jumping around” on the page

… it is worth considering eye tracking abilities as a contributing factor.  What is eye tracking?… Welcome Sarah from “Easy Read“:

Eye-Tracking Weakness: A Common Cause of Reading Difficulty

 As you read this article, you may have the intuition that your eyes are moving smoothly across the screen from left to right, taking in each word in the line of text. In fact, this is far from the case.

When we read, our eyes actually take in a cluster of words at a time, and make little jumps between each group of words. These jumps are called saccades. Saccades are one of the most delicate and precise muscle movements that we make in our daily lives. Our brains smooth out the little jumps in order to give us the sensation of a united line of sight – otherwise we’d all feel constantly seasick!

Because of the highly refined movement required to control the saccades, there is a complex feedback loop between the extra-ocular eye muscles and the cerebellum which moderates our fine motor skills. If this loop is weak, it can lead to slight malfunction of saccade process. Symptoms of this include skipping words, jumping lines of text, losing one’s place especially when reading small text, and growing tired quickly when reading.

We often see children who have been struggling with reading for several years, who have tried all sorts of interventions. When we test these children’s eye-tracking function, we often find an underlying weakness: they can decode a single word but struggle with a line of text, they automatically shrink back from small print and lots of words a page, or they have to use their finger to keep their place.

We find that when these children perform a simple exercise to strengthen that feedback, these kinds of problems greatly improve.  A simple set of eye exercises that can be done at home for 10 days is usually enough to get things looking a lot different (pun intended)!


David Morgan is CEO of Oxford Learning Solutions, publisher of the Easyread System. Easyread is an online course that helps children with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, and highly visual learning styles improve their reading and spelling through short daily lessons. Find out more at http://www.easyreadsystem.com or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/easyreadsystem


Sensory School Supply List

What’s inspiring me lately is all these parents I know, who are SO organized with their approach to prepping for “Back to School.”  I’d like to say I’m organized and while (thanks to an organized friend of mine…you know who you are) I have made my various lists and even ordered a couple of the required books.  Unfortunately, I know I will end up spending more time and money than I need to and missing at least a few items per child, when I drop them off, that first day of school.  Below is my (brief) list of some sensory items to include in your school supply shopping along with reasons, parents might want to consider sending some sensory supplies, along to school with their kids.

Parents of “sensory kids” are all too familiar with the need to provide a “sensory diet” at home and school.  Parents who are less familiar with the concept of a sensory diet can readthis explanation of “What is a Sensory Diet?” by Lindsey Biel, Occupational Therapist and co-author of “Raising a Sensory Smart Child.”  Whether or not a child has an identified sensory processing disorder or not, ALL kids can benefit from use of basic sensory strategies to help maximize attention and readiness for learning   And…if you put sensory items in a cute little “lunchbox” to carry them to school, the concept of a “sensory” diet and how our brains and bodies get “hungry” for sensory input just like our tummies get hungry for food, might actually make sense to them …(For those of you who are local, several of these items are available at the Dancing Bear Toy Store, on Market Street…my favorite place to go for developmental toys).  My favorite sensory supplies are:

1. Items to suck and chew (chewing, sucking, and blowing offer oral motor input to the mouth which exercises muscles for speech & language and gives some deep  touch pressure to the tactile receptors of the mouth which can be calming & may increase attention): bendy straws, chewelery, chewing gum, camelbak bite’n suck valve water bottle.

2. Items to hold/fidget (having something to fiddle with offers increased tactile input to the hands and fingers which might offer the brain and body just enough extra input to remain focused and/or the deep touch pressure provided while squeezing, can help calm frustrations or “nervous jitters”, see my previous thoughts on use of fidgets): therputty, stress balls

4. Items to increase tactile input during written work (enhancing the tactile input that the brain and body automatically get while doing writing tasks might offer “extra” input that helps the fingers “feel” what they are doing and therefore helps the fingers and the brain inherently “know” what to do without looking and with less thinking.  Writing skills may become more automatic, leaving more energy and attention for higher learning): raised line paper, pencil grip(s) (consult an OT for which grips are best for your child), pencil toppers, vibrating pens,heavy pens/pencils

5. Visual Time Keeper (the visual system is most often the strongest sensory system of the body, so providing a visual cue about how much time is left for certain tasks, or as part of a behavioral/incentive plan, helps kids who may be concrete in their thinking or of a young age, the added support they might need to more effectively self-monitor as they complete a task): visual time-timer, sand/egg timer or other items to offer a visual break which can help de-stress overstimulated kids and re-charge tired brains: bubble tubes/wave wands , or liquid motion desk toys.

(Disclaimer: I have received no paid compensation or free product from any of the above mentioned manufacturers, retailers or companies, to mention them in this blog…I simply like ‘em ’cause they’re good! Shameless plug…check out my “amazon store” to purchase most of the above mentioned items! Occupational Therapy Consulting, LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com”.

HAPPY SHOPPING…and enjoy these last couple weeks of summer!