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Disruptive Child and Tactile Defensiveness

It’s not always easy to recognize your disruptive child’s underlying health problems. “He just threw a screaming fit! All I wanted to do was get his shirt on him – I thought the house was coming down!” Bad child? Not necessarily. You could have a child with tactile or sensory defensiveness.

Tactile defensiveness and sensory defensiveness are terms used to refer to the abnormally sensitive or acute reactions demonstrating pain to what others perceive as normal stimuli, such as the feel of a cotton T-shirt, a person calling the child’s name, a normal touch, and other sensory input. It’s commonly considered to be the result of the central nervous system’s inability to correctly process sensory input, or a disruption of the brain’s filtering process, or a malfunction of the flight/fight system. It can also be related to autonomic dysfunction.

Whatever the cause, the result for the child is PAIN.

All of the five senses [touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight], plus the accommodating modalities [balance, field dependency or field reactions, stasis reflexes, etc.] elicited when one or more senses act together and produce behavior, can be affected, or one or more can be affected. What we have to remember is that for most of us, the stimuli to which the child is reacting are perceived by others as normal, not out of the ordinary, and certainly not painful. That’s why Mom cannot understand the child’s aversion to certain items of clothing, food, sitting in the back seat, or whatever the child is avoiding. Children sometimes find it very funny to walk up behind the sensory defensive child and say his name, just to see him leap out of his seat. Adults get angry when the child resists, or doesn’t act “normal,” especially when the adult perceives everything as normal.

Life is hard for a sensory defensive child. And it doesn’t get easier without a lot of help and understanding. Sensory defensive children become sensory defensive adults, many with a total lack of understanding of their own bodies’ reactions. As a defensive maneuver, many TD children and adults adopt an antisocial behavior and attitude, retreating from the painful contacts. Small children, particularly those whose expressive ability is not up to the task of communicating the actual problems, tend to become “disruptive.”

Object lessons in understanding the physical ramifications of sensory defensiveness are common in our mutual experiences. For example, consider the time adult you got that horrible sunburn. Now, imagine how you would have felt had someone forced you to wear tight clothing over it. I’ll bet your reactions could have been considered “disruptive!” To experience a sample of the auditory experiences, turn your TV on, turn the volume to its highest point, then mute it. Give the control to someone else, then stand immediately in front of the speakers and turn your back to both the TV and your controller. Ask your controller to unmute the TV without indicating to you when it will be done, and quickly mute it again. To get that rousing surprise effect, make sure the controller waits until you are relaxed so you will actually be somewhat surprised. Then think about the fact that you are not sensory defensive, and that you were prepared for the sudden shocking noise.

Do you have a better understanding of the problem, and why your sensory defensive child is so disruptive?

Tactile and sensory defensiveness can be ameliorated. When your disruptive child becomes comfortable in his own skin, your problems with disruption will end. Read the related article [Identifying and Coping with Tactile and Sensory Defensiveness] to find out what you can do to reduce your child's pain and the disruption caused by tactile defensiveness or sensory defensiveness.



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