We’ve all put on a wool sweater or scarf that feels really itchy and irritating on our skin. You feel in constant discomfort all day long when you move the slightest bit, its distracting for you all day, and you promise yourself you’ll never wear it again. Kids with tactile hypersensitivities experience this on a daily basis with many types of clothing, causing them to become picky about what they put on their bodies.
A typical tactile system will feel a light touch stimulus, such as a t-shirt on your body, and will quickly adapt to the feeling, so that the nervous system and tactile system no longer notice it is touching the skin. This allows us to wear clothes all day, and not notice or feel irritated by the constant touch on our bodies. The tactile systems of children with hypersensitivities never adapt to the light touch feeling, and are, therefore, constantly aware of it, constantly irritated by it, and constantly distracted by it. Some children may be so sensitive to touch that they perceive the touch of clothing as painful. Children with tactile sensitivities may begin to be rigid about the types of clothing they will put on their bodies, tending to prefer anything that is very soft, and/or seamless, so that it is more tolerable for them and allows them to function better throughout the day.
Suggestions to try to expand your child’s repertoire of clothing include:
- Wash your child’s clothing several times to achieve a “worn in” affect. Use LOTS of fabric softener.
- Purchase the softest fabrics you can find, particularly cotton, fleece, and flannel. There are also websites that specialize in extra soft clothing, such as http://www.softclothing.net.
- Try wearing socks inside out, or purchase seemless clothing (such as socks, shirts, and undergarments), some suggested sites are http://www.smartknitkids.com/.
- Take your child shopping and allow him/her to choose what you purchase. Make a fun day of it!
- Allow your child to choose and lay out his/her own clothing the night before school
- Remove all tags, embroidered emblems, cuffs and waistbands, or other potential irritants
- During and after the shower or bath, try doing firm rub downs to the arms, legs, back, neck, hands and feet, avoiding the stomach and face as these are very sensitive areas. Start with soap or lotion, and firm, deep pressure. When this is tolerated, move to soft washcloths, then rougher washcloths and towels, and to sponges and loofahs as your child’s tolerance increases and his/her sensitivity decreases. Doing this consistently and as often as you can, ideally several times a day, will have the greatest results.
- Massage with lotion after bath time. The deep pressure is calming and may help to decrease tactile sensitivities.
- Explore different snug fitting clothing to be worn alone or under regular clothing, such as tights, or leggings; lycra / spandex undershirt that fits very snugly; or a “compression shirt” or other compression garments, such as a SPIO. Snug fitting garments will give some calming deep pressure input, and it will also keep the “itchy” clothing off the skin directly.
- Messy play may help decrease tactile sensitivities- Such as shaving cream; finger paint; dry rice/bean bins; cooking with your hands, such as kneading or mixing.
If your child has tactile sensitivities which are causing disruptions and challenges to his/her daily functioning or the functioning of your family, consult an occupational therapist. Seek out an occupational therapy evaluation for expert assistance in working to overcoming this challenge.