Guest Author - Katie Thomas
Now that you’ve identified the role of tactile defensiveness and/or sensory defensiveness in your disruptive child’s behavior, you need to know what you can do about it. After you get an accurate diagnosis, which can often be obtained through school referral, at their cost, because of the learning problems attendant on these conditions, you can begin to implement the coping mechanisms that are most effective for you, your child, and the rest of your family.
Neurologists use efficient neurological evaluations for receptive and expressive functioning, including tactile, visual, auditory, motor skills, speech and language, and cognition, to determine tactile or sensory defensiveness. There are a lot of treatments and therapies designed to help with the problem. However, giving a tactile defensive child the same sensitive and caring treatment you would give any guest in your home is one of the easiest things to do. In other words, if your child hates certain clothing, don’t force him to wear it. Let the child go shopping for clothes and chose his own comfortable items. If you notice an extreme startle reflex, don’t startle the child. Approach from the front, and hum softly when you enter the room so he knows you are there. Let him initiate touching. If the child can’t abide certain textures in food, find something he can eat with the same nutritional value. Give him the same break you’d want given you – or that you’d give a guest in your home.
One of the hardest things for many people to understand is that sometimes the child reacts extremely, and at others, the child doesn’t react any differently from normal – to the exact same stimulus. Another is that while some therapies work for some, they don’t work for others. Another is that things are better as long as the accommodations and therapies are ongoing, and go right back to the bad old days when you miss a day of incorporating them into daily life. Well, that’s the way it is.
You have to live with it, just like your child has to live with it. The difference between you and your child is that you have control, while he doesn’t. As in legal liability, responsibility follows control. Part of that responsibility includes teaching your child what he needs to know and understand about his own body – and that he’s not all that different from most people. Look up the statistics. You can also teach appropriate responses. “Yes, it hurts when someone touches you when you’re not expecting it. But it’s wrong to hit them. Just say OUCH – that hurt, and maybe back away. If they continue, tell me or another adult about it.”
Do your research, so you will have all of the facts. Be sure you address the physical aspect before you get tied up with psychosocial issues. Remember that psychosocial reactions come after a root cause, and not the other way around. Frequently, when you fix the physical problem, or address it appropriately, the psychosocial problems fade away.
Make sure all the adults dealing with your child understand the problem and what to do to make it easier for the child to handle this problem. Some of the things parents do include providing the child with earphones and a music source. They notice that people approach the child differently when they see he has earphones on.
Some small children who are sensory defensive engage in what we perceive as unacceptable avoidance activities, such as hiding under tables and going to other extremes to avoid being touched or spoken to. You can teach your child to do more appropriate things, such as coming to stand behind you, or picking up a book and retreating behind it, or using a non-activated cellphone to “talk” to someone. Most people who think that someone is engaged in a phone conversation give that person some space. You can also run interference, engaging the attention of other adults and redirecting the attention or activity of anyone who is about to hurt your child. And it is painful; the child suffers from the sensory input. Never force the sensory defensive individual to engage in those painful social activity contacts; compelling the individual to experience pain is a form of child or adult abuse.
There are a lot of different things that will help your child and you deal with tactile or sensory defensiveness. Some people use occupational therapy [OT]; others research, then develop and use their own integrated therapy techniques [ITT] at home. Some examples of ITT are: underwater massage in the child’s tub; using shaving cream to bodywrite; massage after a warm bath; having the child massage a doll with baby oil; furniture walking. Furniture walking and bouncing are two of the things that many people find offensive; however, allowing a child to walk the sides and top of furniture while lightly resting a hand on top of Mom’s closed fist [for balance] is very effective and FUN, as opposed to going to therapy outside the home, which can lead the child into a “sick me” mentality. On the other hand, OT can be very beneficial, if provided by a knowledgeable practitioner. Do your research and follow it up with action. Tactile and sensory defensiveness can be ameliorated. When your disruptive child becomes comfortable in his own skin, your problems with disruption will end.