How to Support Tactile Avoiders

Tactile avoiders are highly sensitive to touch or temperature and tend to become overwhelmed or distracted by everyday tactile input. Avoiders often have extreme or upsetting reactions to even very mild stimulation. As a result, they can appear withdrawn or defensive and have trouble fitting in with their peers. They also frequently experience symptoms associated with anxiety disorders and engage in repetitive self-soothing behaviors.

See below for some ways to identify and support tactile avoiders.

Tactile Avoiders May:

  • Avoid toys, clothing, or food with specific textures.
  • Dislike being touched, hugged, or kissed, even by parents.
  • Avoid getting dirty and avoid playing in sand, dirt, or grass.
  • Dislike their hair or skin being wet and avoid swimming and bathing.
  • Refuse to wear tight, scratchy, or uncomfortable clothing with seams or tags.
  • Avoid play with other children and constantly worry about being touched or bumped.
  • Become anxious in crowded spaces or when standing even somewhat close to others.
  • Have a low pain threshold and respond to even light touch as if in pain.

How to Support Your Tactile Avoider:

  • Remove tags from clothing and turn uncomfortable items inside out.
  • Put long hair up in a towel or hair tie when bathing or swimming.
  • Buy compression or athletic clothing to wear under loose or scratchy items.
  • Use gloves or tools to engage with new or unpleasant textures.
  • Encourage low-contact outdoor games, such as racing, tag, or tug-of-war.
  • Introduce new foods slowly and in the preferred texture, such as mashed or crunchy.
  • Warn family and friends ahead of time that hugging and touching is not desired.

Keep in mind that no two children are exactly alike, and most people exhibit both seeking and avoiding behaviors from time to time. If you think your child might be suffering from sensory processing issues, you should seek a professional assessment. The STAR Institute’s Treatment Directory is a great resource that can help you find therapists, doctors, and community resources in your area.

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