Touch Sensitivity (Tactile Defensiveness): When Clothes Hurt

Children and adults with touch sensitivity (tactile defensiveness) struggle to find clothes that are comfortable. It creates significant problems, especially when school or work dictate you have to wear something other than sweatpants and baggy sweatshirts. School uniforms? Dress shoes? Nylons? Ties? Button up shirts?

One Mom writes in...

"I have 10 year old triplets; two girls and a boy. Both girls have auditory processing disorders and one also has SPD. She has extreme tactile defensiveness, especially regarding clothing. The kids are required to wear uniforms to school, including polo shirts with collars. She cries every morning and she is probably very distracted in school because of the shirt.

Any advice? Any suggestions as to where I can purchase extra soft clothing? Thank you very much."

So... what DO you do when you are tactile defensive / touch sensitive and your clothes hurt?

Ideally, I would recommend getting an OT evaluation and/or back into therapy... since it is severely affecting her daily life. I assume, since she was diagnosed with SPD, she was in OT at one time? (If you are reading this and have not been diagnosed yet, but suspect you have tactile defensiveness or SPD, you can find out here). One of the most effective treatments for tactile defensiveness can be found in OT... the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol (which they are now referring to as DPPT-- Deep Pressure and Proprioceptive Technique). This protocol, however, needs to be taught by an experienced/trained professional and monitored by them as well. It has truly made huge differences in hundreds (? thousands) of individuals' abilities to tolerate touch.  To learn more about who can do/use this protocol on children, read "The Wilbarger Brushing Protocol; Who Can Do It".

Meanwhile, until OT begins, there are things you can do to help.

First, use TONS of fabric softener!! Wash and rewash and rewash as many times as you can with a lot of liquid fabric softener... soak them for days or multiple times if need be. This is a "magic pill" for many.

Second, is to buy clothes (even school uniforms) at a consignment shop or used clothing store; where they may have been worn and washed many times, naturally making them softer.

Third, have her do firm rub downs during and after her shower/bath. Start with lotion, move to baby washcloths, then rougher washcloths and towels, to scrubbies and loofahs as she increases her tolerance and decreases her touch sensitivity / defensiveness. But, make sure it is done consistently and as often as possible- working up to several times a day, if possible.

Fourth, give her some deep pressure lotion massages to her arms, legs, hands, neck, back, and feet (avoid the stomach). Use firm, even pressure.

Fifth, sew some very soft material (same color) of the inside of the shirt on the collar and seams of the shirt. Have her feel different materials at the store and decide which one feels best. (We did this for a the waistband of a pair of jeans for my daughter... she chose a silky material, and it worked!!)

The last thing you can try is a tight fitting lycra / spandex undershirt or a "compression shirt" underneath her shirt to give her some calming deep pressure input and keep the "itchy" shirt off her skin directly.

Although accommodations are a good idea and usually necessary, they are a temporary fix. Therefore, I do encourage OT treatment to address and change the underlying touch sensitivity (tactile defensiveness)

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Related Resources And Further Reading

Seamless Socks - Can't stand the feel of your socks? Does your child refuse to get dressed or keep his socks on, then try seamless socks!

Tactile Overresponsivity (Tactile Defensiveness) - A description, signs and symptoms, effects of, and ways to provide tactile stimulation that will help your child tolerate this type of input.

Proprioceptive Dysfunction - An in-depth article defining proprioceptive dysfunction; signs and symptoms to help you understand the REAL reason your child may not be able to learn new motor tasks or has a high energy level.

Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist - comprehensive SPD Checklist; signs and symptoms of tactile, auditory, olfactory and oral defensiveness, as well as proprioceptive and vestibular dysfunction.

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