SPD Information Symptoms Impact on the Senses

Impact on the Senses

The Tactile (Touch) Sense

Overview of the Tactile Sense

Like any other sensory system, the tactile sense can become an issue for people suffering from Sensory Processing Disorder. The tactile sense is received through millions of nerve ending on the skin, detecting even the slightest touch sensations and reporting it to the brain.

In a well regulated tactile system, the vast majority of these sensations are gaited, creating the ability for the person to notice, but not respond to, very minute changes in wind speed, outside temperature, or very light touch. Once the brain receives this information, it responds accordingly, monitoring only those tactile sensations it perceives accurately to be dangerous or threatening. Therefore, this person will only be sent into fight or flight over aggressive attacks, like punching, kicking, or scratching. They usually won't be easily aggravated by most clothing tags, types of fabric, or waistbands; and being lightly touched will not be a problem. They won't be excessively ticklish, and won't withdraw or strike out when being unexpectedly touched. They will also have preferences in textures of clothing and food, but most likely won't excessively seek out certain types of clothing.

Tactile Defensiveness

If a person is an over-responder to tactile sensations, they are referred to as tactile defensive, and their brain will not accurately perceive touch sensations. Their brains may not gait touch sensations, so they may be sent into fight or flight over very small, everyday touch sensations. Being bumped, nudged, or poked unexpectedly, especially if the person or object that is touching them cannot be seen or otherwise anticipated, can send them into an uncontrollable and inappropriate fight or flight response. Without expecting the touch, their brain may interpret it incorrectly as a threat, which can cause them to startle easily, jump away, or even lash out at someone for touching them. Getting splashed by water or having an unexpected or unwanted change in temperature can also lead to a fight or flight response. Small changes in outside temperature and wind speed are often noticeable and can have a large effect. Their eyes might also be very sensitive and they will often need to blink at the slightest amount of cold wind.

Their brain will also have a hard time habituating certain touch sensations. A clothing tag can lead to constant agitation, and is often said to 'feel like an irremovable spider'. Stitching in seems may feel like thousands of needles poking into the skin, as every stitch can be felt as irritating, creating a burning sensation. People with tactile defensiveness have a hard time finding socks, underwear, and shirts as the seams are actually perceived as painful. Most clothes will feel too tight, and cause a sensation of being overheated, which becomes almost impossible not to focus on. They will often fidget with and adjust their clothing. While alone, they may prefer nudity, although even a slight breeze can also be perceived as agitating against the skin.

Deep pressure against the skin can be helpful, but light touch is always perceived as burning, tickling, or scratching. This may cause a withdrawal from intimacy, or may lead to them only wanting it on their terms. Tactile defensives will often avoid gritty sensations, such as sand and dirt. It may also take a very long time to get used to water temperature when they go swimming and their face may feel as though it is burning when it is underwater. Poor hygiene, caused by aggravation during skin washing, bathing, hair washing, hair cutting and brushing, nail clipping, deodorant, and shaving, frequently occur.

Tactile Under-Responsiveness

People who are hyposensitive to tactile input often can't feel large changes in temperature or wind on their body. The brain may inappropriately gait even dangerous feelings, such as heavy impacts and being cut. The sufferer may not even feel or respond to having been hit, or having cut themselves, which can be dangerous to their health, and may not allow them to respond appropriately to being physically assaulted. They may also sit on objects frequently without even noticing them.

Tactile Seeking

Tactile sensory seekers often seek out tactile sensations, like playing with sand and muck. They may lather certain things on their body to achieve the stimulation they are craving on their skin. They may run their hands or fingers across walls, railings, or other objects in their environment. It is also common for them to constantly touch other people. Tactile seekers may have a hard time refraining from grabbing and handling everything, which is often viewed as bad behavior or a character flaw.

Tactile Discrimination Disorder

Tactile discrimination allows an individual to know where they are being touched, how firmly they are being touched, and what they are touching if they are the one touching. Tactile Discrimination Disorder directly impacts a person's ability to do this. People with tactile discrimination disorder will have a hard time knowing where they are being touched, especially when they can not see what is touching them. They will have difficulty pinpointing where they are being touched, as well. Difficulty with tactile discrimination will also impair a person's ability to know what they are touching without looking. They will need to use their eyes when searching through their pockets, purse, or bags because they cannot tell what they are handling unless they look.