One of the most well-known sensory problems is tactile defensiveness, a condition in which all or some types of touch are perceived as noxious and dangerous. Like all sensory issues, tactile defensiveness can run from mild to severe. Consider Lia, a ten-month-old girl adopted from China whom Lindsey worked with. At the orphanage, she had been swaddled from head-to-toe in a blanket virtually twenty-four hours a day. While she was a cuddly baby who quickly attached to her adoring adoptive parents, Lia became extremely upset when anyone touched her hands and feet, avoided holding her bottle, protested when barefoot, would not play with textured toys, and touched things only with the index finger of one hand. As a result of her tactile oversensitivity, her fine motor and gross motor skills were significantly delayed. A more extreme and less common example of tactile defensiveness is a child who refuses to be held and is so unable to accept the sensation of food in his mouth and throat that he must be fed through a tube.
A child may also be tactile undersensitive. When Nancy's son, Cole, didn't flinch and even giggled when vaccinated, it was a sign of tactile undersensitivity. When he learned to walk, he often skinned his knees at the playground, got up, and kept moving, even as his knees were bleeding. He just didn't perceive the sensation as painful.
A tactile undersensitive child needs a lot of input to get the touch information he needs and often seeks it out on his own, often in unsafe ways. A tactile defensive child needs to be desensitized so he can more readily accept touch experiences. This can be tricky, because as a parent, you want to accommodate your child by helping him to avoid threatening experiences to make life easier and at the same time, build up his tolerance for inevitable unpleasant experiences as well.