Sensory Processing: Touch

Sensory Processing is the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ of Autism Spectrum Disorders. We understand the world around us through our senses. This blog will focus on touch: hyper-sensitivity and hypo-sensitivity.


Hypersensitivity to Touch (Tactile Defensiveness):
  • Becomes fearful, anxious or aggressive with light or unexpected touch
  • As an infant did / does not like to be held or cuddled; may arch back, cry, and pull away
  • Distressed when diaper is being, or needs to be, changed
  • Appears fearful of, or avoids standing in close proximity to other people or peers (especially in lines)
  • Becomes frightened when touched from behind or by someone/something they cannot see (such as under a blanket)
  • Complains about having hair brushed; may be very picky about using a particular brush
  • Bothered by rough bed sheets (i.e., if old and "bumpy")
  • Avoids group situations for fear of the unexpected touch
  • Resists friendly or affectionate touch from anyone besides parents or siblings (sometimes family members as well)
  • Dislikes kisses, will "wipe off" place where kissed
  • Prefers hugs
  • A raindrop, water from the shower, or wind blowing on the skin may feel like torture and produce adverse and avoidance reactions
  • May overreact to minor cuts, scrapes, and or bug bites
  • Avoids touching certain textures of material (blankets, rugs, stuffed animals)
  • Refuses to wear new or stiff clothes, clothes with rough textures, turtlenecks, jeans, hats, or belts, etc.
  • Avoids using hands for play
  • Avoids / dislikes / aversive to "messy play", i.e., sand, mud, water, glue, glitter, playdoh, slime, shaving, cream/funny foam etc.
  • Will be distressed by dirty hands and want to wipe or wash them frequently
  • Excessively ticklish
  • Distressed by seams in socks and may refuse to wear them
  • Distressed by clothes rubbing on skin; may want to wear shorts and short sleeves year round, toddlers may prefer to be naked and pull diapers and clothes off constantly
  • May want to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants year round to avoid having skin exposed
  • Distressed about having face washed
  • Distressed about having hair, toenails, or fingernails cut
  • Resists brushing teeth and is extremely fearful of the dentist
  • Is a picky eater, only eating certain tastes and textures; mixed textures tend to be avoided as well as hot or cold foods; resists trying new foods
  • May refuse to walk barefoot on grass or sand
  • May walk on toes only

Hyposensitivity to Touch (Under-Responsive):
  • May crave touch, needs to touch everything and everyone
  • Is not aware of being touched / bumped unless done with extreme force or intensity
  • Is not bothered by injuries, like cuts and bruises, and shows no distress with shots (may even say they love getting shots)
  • May not be aware that hands or face are dirty or feel his / her nose running
  • May be self-abusive; pinching, biting, or banging his own head
  • Mouths objects excessively
  • Frequently hurts other children or pets while playing
  • Repeatedly touches surfaces or objects that are soothing (i.e., blanket)
  • Seeks out surfaces and textures that provide strong tactile feedback
  • Thoroughly enjoys and seeks out messy play
  • Craves vibrating or strong sensory input
  • Has a preference and craving for excessively spicy, sweet, sour, or salty foods

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