Sensory Issues…Sensitivity to Touch

June 1, 2012

Some current research states that up to 70% of kids with Autism have sensory processing issues.  In an earlier blog, I focused on Zak’s sensitivities to sound / auditory processing but   today, I am going to discuss sensory issues as they relate to touch.  As with many of the other senses, kiddos with Autism can exhibit signs of being either over or under sensitive to touch.  I am going to list some common signs & behaviors to both and also list what we have done to help Zak.  As you read through the lists, you may find yourself saying “yes, my child does that” to some behaviors from both lists and that is common as well.  Zak is definitely more Hypersensitive, but certainly can toggle to the Hyposensitive side as well.  The first four bullets on the hypersensitive list fit Zak to a tee, but he also is a chewer & when he was younger, would run into walls.  It is important to document the sensitivities your child has and then work with them along with your OT & PT to help your child receive the help they need.


  • High pain tolerance:  does not seem to be bothered by injuries
  • Self abusive (especially during meltdowns):  pinching, biting, banging head
  • Seeks out strong, intensive input:  running into walls, falling onto the floor
  • Hurts other children or pets when playing with them
  • Chews on objects:  Clothing, pencils, toys
  • Not bothered by or notices being dirty


  • Fearful or anxious of unexpected touch
  • Avoids standing close to others/peers:  wants to be first in line
  • Does not like hair brushed or nails trimmed
  • Dislikes kisses:  wipes them off
  • Prefers short sleeves and shorts even in cold weather, or prefers to be naked
  • Dislikes “messy” play:  sand, dirt, glue, Play dough
  • Picky eater:  only eats certain textures
  • Doesn’t like to walk barefoot in the sand or grass


  1. Seeks out strong/intense input
    1. Have kiddo push or carry something heavy (move a chair with books on it)
    2. Jump on trampoline
    3. Have child lay on floor and roll exercise ball slowly over body
  2. Chews on objects
    1. Have kiddo brush teeth with soft toothbrush (with help if necessary)
    2. Blow bubbles:  Bubble solution with wand and/or in the tub with a straw
    3. Provide safe objects to chew on:  Chewlery & toys
  3. Does not notice being dirty
    1. While eating and naturally getting “messy”, or by putting food smear on face have kiddo look at themselves in the mirror to visually see the mess & then verbally tell them (while showing them), they have food on their face so they try to get a mental concept of what it feels like.  Then have them lick or wipe it off, again while looking in the mirror.
  4. Does not like hair brushed or nails trimmed
    1. Try brushing hair with fingers or very gently with soft brush.   If able, have child brush own hair
    2. Trim nails while child is distracted watching a movie, playing on the computer
  5. Prefers short sleeves and short pants
    1. Purchase soft, cotton clothing with no tags (many popular clothing lines at stores such as Target, Old Navy, Wal-Mart carry clothes with out tags)
    2. Wash clothing several times to soften (use scent/dye free fabric softener)

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