Tactile Perception and Deficits in Autistic persons and methods for overcoming them

By Sushena Sharma & Shruti Siag Fergusson College Pune University

Sensory registration of touch has been looked into from various studies to get a comprehensive idea about the general opinion on autistic children and their reactions the tactile stimuli.1 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions Abstract The present article is an investigative overview of deficits in tactile perception and detailed understanding of unusual patterns of touch and sensation in persons suffering from autism. Suggestions have also been made for helping such children integrate various sensations and adapt to them. .

2 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions Sensation and Perception The processes by which our sense organs receive information from the environment is referred to as sensation whereas the sorting out. Smell: Perfume can be detected when one drop is present in a three-room apartment. The differential threshold is the minimum stimulation required to detect the difference between two stimuli. 1962): Sight: A candle flame can be seen from 30 miles away on a dark. When we want to study how strong a stimulus has to be for us to detect it. Hearing: The ticking of a watch can be heard 20 feet away under quiet conditions. and integration of stimuli involving our sense organs and brain is perception. analysed and integrated with other sensory information. The stimulus value that constitutes a just noticeable difference .n. Consider the following examples of absolute thresholds for the various senses (Galanter. Psychophysics is the study of the relationship between the physical aspects of stimuli and our psychological experience of them (Baird. clear night. Taste: Sugar can be tasted when 1 teaspoon is dissolved in 2 gallons of water. or a just noticeable difference (j. the concept of Absolute Threshold comes in. whereas perception is the process by which that very stimulus is interpreted. An Absolute Threshold is the smallest intensity of a stimulus that must be present for it to be detected. Geschieder.d). The primary difference is that sensation can be thought of as an organism’s encounter with a raw sensory stimulus. interpretation. 1997. Differential Threshold It involves noticing the distinctions between stimuli. Touch: A bee’s wing falling from a distance of 1 centimetre can be felt on the cheek. analysis. 1997) Under psychophysics. the most important concept is the concept of Threshold. The issue of how the intensity of a stimulus influences our sensory responses comes under the branch of psychophysics. in practice it is sometimes difficult to find the precise boundary between the two. Although perception clearly represents a step beyond sensation.

yet these experiences may be interpreted differently. It can be difficult to live with a child with sensory defensiveness (e. difficulty in interpreting a sense. Some sensory defensive behaviour might include difficulty in tolerating tactile sensation. If the transmission of sensory input to the brain is disorganized. texture or temperature (Rasmussen. Understanding how these experiences may affect the autistic person’s functioning is vital in order to adopt methods and strategies to help the person function in the community. It is widely reported that autistic people have unusual (from a non–autistic point of view) sensory-perceptual experiences. he or she might become upset or he or she may not like his or her hands to be dirty. Signs of Tactile Dysfunction: 1) Hypersensitivity to Touch (over responsive) . Many autistic children do not know how to cope with the different sensory input they receive. 1991). They might dislike a specific food. These experiences may involve hyper.or hypo-sensitivity. Therefore. he or she might cry and fuss.3 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions depends upon the intensity of the initial stimulus. For example. etc. such that any variety of sensory stimuli might readily be interpreted as threatening or anxiety provoking. All these experiences are based on real experiences. For example. in order to design treatment programmes in accordance with his/her perceptual abilities. and feels etc. fluctuation between different volumes of perception. Wilbarger & Wilbarger. 2005. 2003. Many autistic children have tactile defensiveness. a person in a quiet room is more startled by the ringing of a telephone than a person in an already noisy room. an autistic child). if his or her hair is combed or washed.g. if a child hears loud sounds or noise. it is of great importance to understand how the children with autism experience the world through each of the channels. and how he/she interprets what he/she sees. They might avoid touching unexpected objects. Children must integrate information they receive through all of their senses and from movement and gravity. Children with sensory defensiveness tend to have a nervous system that is on overdrive. Tactile Perception and its role in Autism The most common characteristic of autistic children is their inability to process sensory input. hears. a child often exhibits sensory defensiveness or inability to tolerate various types of sensory stimuli. Bogdashina.

. stuffed animals) refuses to wear new or stiff clothes.e. etc. playdoh. if old and "bumpy") avoids group situations for fear of the unexpected touch resists friendly or affectionate touch from anyone besides parents or siblings (and sometimes them too!) dislikes kisses. or avoids standing in close proximity to other people or peers (especially in lines) becomes frightened when touched from behind or by someone/something they cannot see (such as under a blanket) complains about having hair brushed. avoids using hands for play avoids/dislikes/aversive to "messy play". changed appears fearful of. may be very picky about using a particular brush bothered by rough bed sheets (i. anxious or aggressive with light or unexpected touch as an infant. cry. and pull away distressed when diaper is being. water.4 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions becomes fearful. glue. or wind blowing on the skin may feel like torture and produce adverse and avoidance reactions may overreact to minor cuts. may arch back. and or bug bites avoids touching certain textures of material (blankets. sand.e. i. clothes with rough textures. shaving cream/funny foam etc. slime. glitter. will "wipe off" place where kissed prefers hugs a raindrop. scrapes. jeans. rugs. or belts. hats. did/does not like to be held or cuddled.. mud. or needs to be. turtlenecks. will be distressed by dirty hands and want to wipe or wash them frequently excessively ticklish distressed by seams in socks and may refuse to wear them . water from the shower.

sour. needs to touch everything and everyone is not aware of being touched/bumped unless done with extreme force or intensity is not bothered by injuries. or salty foods . sweet. biting. toenails.. mixed textures tend to be avoided as well as hot or cold foods. and shows no distress with shots (may even say they love getting shots!) may not be aware that hands or face are dirty or feel his/her nose running may be self-abusive. or banging his own head mouths objects excessively frequently hurts other children or pets while playing repeatedly touches surfaces or objects that are soothing (i. may want to wear shorts and short sleeves year round. like cuts and bruises. only eating certain tastes and textures. toddlers may prefer to be naked and pull diapers and clothes off constantly or. pinching. blanket) seeks out surfaces and textures that provide strong tactile feedback thoroughly enjoys and seeks out messy play craves vibrating or strong sensory input has a preference and craving for excessively spicy.5 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions distressed by clothes rubbing on skin. or fingernails cut resists brushing teeth and is extremely fearful of the dentist is a picky eater. may want to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants year round to avoid having skin exposed distressed about having face washed distressed about having hair. resists trying new foods may refuse to walk barefoot on grass or sand may walk on toes only 2) Hypo-sensitivity to touch (under-responsive) may crave touch.e.

(now 11) would draw pictures and letters on it with his finger when he was five to seven years.play gyms with sound and lights . play with or touch . You can also do bags with different colours.tons of tactile toys play mats with unique sensory experiences . parents the world over too have come up with their own unique ways in stimulating their autistic children. Put enough gel so that the bag can lay flat.textured puzzles . (Dale Lips) -Towel rub down after a warm bath (firm.unique balls to sit on. Some suggestions are: -I used a large Tupperware container and coloured the rice and put small toys in and my daughter would look for them. evenly distributed deep pressure input . A. (Linda Standiford) -You can put hair gel (DEP) in a gallon-size zip-lock baggie adding strong tape across the zip lock. He can poke at it with his finger or feel the squishiness of the bag.6 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions Treating Children with Tactile Defensiveness Apart from professionals. quick strokes) -Wearing spandex or lycra exercise-type clothes under regular clothes for calming.fun balance boards and games . These creative solutions are easily applicable at home and can be innocently incorporated into play without making the child feel the frustration of having to go through therapy.vibrating toys .

This works well when there is a mild negative response. substitute a new consistency of shampoo. For example. for that reason. Become aware of sensations that may trigger an unwanted response. consider shampoos without fragrance and the scent may also be causing the negative reaction. or any textured substance you can think of. Also. such as shampoo. water. .toys to sit on. For example. More generally speaking. and have fun filling these tables with sand. put little toys in as well to encourage exploration. foam shampoo rather than liquid shampoo. if clothing tags disturb the individual.Playing in the sand or water provides essential yet fun ways to experience necessary tactile input. Build tolerance to a negative sensation. when introducing a new lotion allow the person to see someone else smelling it and using it without a negative response. An example of exposure to build tolerance would be to offer the texture of crackers to a child who is tactile defensive and does not like crunchy foods. or NUK brush. Use your creativity. Another example is tooth brushing. Using a very soft toothbrush. Continue to offer the crunchy food daily. building a tolerance to negative sensation can be useful. Of course. where tactile stimuli known to be offensive will be present. remove the tags.slimy. get plenty of towels. Allow them to . Avoid the sensation. climb on. some useful strategies for dealing with tactile defensiveness are: Strategies to Treating Tactile Defensiveness Disorder 1. Remove intolerable food textures from the diet. twirl on. 2. Many young children who are tactile defensive dislike having their teeth brushed. spin on. that the child can tolerate. This strategy is used for stimuli that isn’t necessary in the person‘s daily life. shaving cream. If an individual is sensitive to a hygiene product. squishy. squeezy toys . brush their teeth softly and frequently. Avoid places. 3. Introduce new stimuli slowly. until the child is able to tolerate the texture. rice. This strategy works by exposing small amounts of the stimulus to the individual. Do not use this strategy for tactile stimuli that lead to violent or self-injurious behaviours. Avoidance may interfere with a person’s quality of life. ride on. For example.7 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions .

Deficits in tactile perception is not only a feature of Autism but is also related to Asperger’s Syndrome. The similarity in the tactile symptoms makes diagnosis difficult but since they are common to all of them. the treatment for one is flexible and can be applied to the other. it is important to remember that Autism is also accompanied with additional problems such as impaired social interaction and communication and requires additional efforts when dealing with affected persons. can prevent the person from being overwhelmed. Sensory Processing Disorder. Autism partly arises from distraction from the real focus of events and leads to compulsive and repetitive behaviour. This in turn puts a constraint on their communication skills and participation in social events. ADHD. . I believe that we should help persons suffering from autism to first conquer the physical events that disturb them so that their mind is more receptive to the mental events happening around them for better mental health. Slow exposure. without negative responses. However.8 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions smell it and look at it before attempting to place it on their hands.

S.html .) Retrieved from http://www.sensory-processingdisorder.) Retrieved from http://www. R. S (2009).d.9 Tactile Defensiveness: Deficits and Solutions References Sunay.d.comeunity.html Tactile Defensive Activities (n.com/disability/sensory_integration/activities-tactile. Teaching of Tactile Perception Skills to Children with Autism in Early Childhood. Signs of tactile dysfunction (n. Understanding Psychology. Feldman. 157-158. Tata McGraw Hill Edition 2006. Ozean Journal of Social Sciences.com/sensory-processing-disorder-checklist.

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