Travel Tips for Tactile Sensitivities

Spring break is coming! For many of us, spring means enjoying the sun over our heads and the sand under our toes. Many sensitive children, however, find trips to the beach or other exotic locations unbearable. This month, we’re going to focus on some common tactile triggers you might encounter on vacation. 

No matter what your child’s particular triggers are, remember that preparation is key. Have her help you problem solve, plan, and pack as much as possible. Try new clothing or toiletries at home and make sure she has a chance to give input on each item. Above all, be honest about what to expect in your new environment and give her as much control over her own comfort as possible.

Keep reading for some common tactile triggers and a few tips for tackling each. Also, be sure to check out our previous article for some more general tips on traveling with sensory needs.

#1 – Sunscreen, lotion, and other toiletries

  • Make sure to test every new product at home before you leave.
  • Pack enough for your entire trip–you might not be able to find certain items elsewhere.
  • Experiment with different types of applications–sunscreen sticks, shampoo bars, etc.
  • Minimize the need for sunscreen by using sun shirts, hats, and protective clothing.

#2 – Unfamiliar or uncomfortable bedding

  • Bring pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, or stuffed animals from home.
  • Make bedding smell and feel familiar by bringing your own laundry detergent.
  • Bring a favorite blanket to act as a barrier/comfortabel layer under the sheets.

#3 – Sand and unusual textures or temperatures

  • Experiment with different types of shoes–open vs. closed sandals, water shoes, etc.
  • Minimize exposure by wearing pants or gloves while playing on the beach.
  • Try playing on different parts of the beach–loose, dry sand vs. wet, packed sand.
  • Bring ice packs, hand warmers, etc. to help regulate temperature.

#4 – Insect repellant and bug bites

  • Minimize exposure by wearing long sleeves and pants when possible.
  • Experiment with different types of applications–wipes, wristbands, clips, sprays, etc.
  • Use bug zappers or burn citronella candles or sticks when outside.
  • Experiment with alternative repellants, such as essential oils.
  • Pack hydrocortisone cream or ointment to soothe bites and stings.
  • Be aware of your location–bugs are more prevalent by the water or in wooded areas.

#5 – Being crowded or bumped in public places

  • Call ahead and see if your destination has accommodations for sensory sensitivities.
  • Practice waiting in line at the grocery store or other crowded location.
  • Practice deep breathing and anti-anxiety techniques. 
  • Talk it out–remind your child that people who might bump into her are doing it accidentally and are not trying to be rude or hurtful.

How to Introduce New Foods

If you’ve got a gustatory avoider or olfactory avoider, you know how difficult it can be to get through a typical meal, let alone trying to introduce new foods. However, we know that eating a variety of good foods is the best way to stay healthy. So how do you go about getting your picky eater to try new foods?

Before you start: Make the place and time are consistent and the atmosphere is calm. Chaotic family dinners may not be the best time to try new foods, as there are so many potential distractions and sensory triggers. Once your child is calm and regulated, have him move through the following steps at a comfortable pace.

How to Introduce New Foods:

  1. Tolerate the food on the table, but not on his plate.

  2. Tolerate the food on his plate.

  3. Touch the food with utensils.

  4. Touch the food with his hands.

  5. Hold the food up close to his face and smell it.

  6. Hold the food up to his lips.

  7. Touch the food lightly with his tongue.

  8. Bite down on the food and spit it out.

  9. Bite down on the food and hold a small amount in his mouth.

  10. Finally, bite down on the food and swallow.

Patience is key, as it might take several days—or even weeks—for your child to progress through each step. Remember, you should never force or coerce your child into eating. Moving at a pace that feels comfortable to him will allow him to feel more in control and less anxious.

Other Things to Consider:

  • Stepping out of your comfort zone can be stressful for anyone, especially sensory avoiders. Build in time to let your child calm down and relax after completing one of the steps above.
  • If he’s able, have your child help with the food shopping and meal preparation. This will let him get used to the sight, smell, and feel of new foods without having to taste them.
  • Try to introduce new foods in your child’s preferred texture. For example, serve raw fruits and vegetables if your child prefers crunchy foods. If he prefers soft foods, start with applesauce, mashed cauliflower, etc.

How to Support Auditory Discrimination Disorder

Auditory discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to detect, interpret, or respond to everyday sounds. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Auditory Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Speak too loudly or too softly.
  • Appear unresponsive or confused when given verbal directions.
  • Take longer than usual to process and respond to verbal directions.
  • Be unable to distinguish between background and foreground noises.
  • Have difficulty distinguishing between similar sounding words (cat, rat, sat).

How to Support Auditory Discrimination Disorder:

  • Stand directly in front of your child when giving verbal directions or asking a question. Give him/her extra time to process and respond to what you’ve said.
  • Break complicated instructions down into small, simple steps and allow your child to complete each step each before moving on to the next.
  • Teach your child to use visual cues, such as stop signs, flashing lights, or children lining up at the door for a fire drill to stay safe and know what to do next.
  • Work with your child’s teachers on ways to reinforce and revisit key concepts. Consider incorporating presentations, audio recordings, and typed notes/outlines.
  • Play games to practice telling the difference between similar sounding words. (“Ball and fall—are these the same or different? Now you choose two words and try to trick me.”)

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.

How to Support Tactile Discrimination Disorder

Tactile discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to detect or respond to touch, temperature, or pressure. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Tactile Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Not notice when they’re being touched.
  • Be unable to gauge the temperature of food and drinks.
  • Have difficulty identifying or distinguishing objects by feel.
  • Tend to play too rough and accidentally injure themselves or others.
  • Have difficulty recognizing and respecting others’ personal boundaries.
  • Have a high pain threshold and might not notice minor injuries.
  • Use too much pressure when writing or playing and frequently break pencils or toys.
  • Have difficulty performing certain motor tasks, such as getting dressed or riding a bike.

How to Support Auditory Discrimination Disorders:

  • Encourage safe, low-contact outdoor games, such as racing, tag, or tug-of-war.
  • Experiment with weighted pencils and practice writing on different kinds of paper or textured surfaces, such as tissue paper, chalkboards, or marker boards.
  • Play games to practice identifying common and related objects by feel. Place common household items in a “mystery bag” and have your child reach in and name the items without looking.
  • Practice dressing, tying shoes, and performing other motor tasks in front of a mirror. Print out a visual step-by-step guide for your child to reference.

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.

How to Support Olfactory Discrimination Disorder

Olfactory discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to detect, interpret, and recognize smells, including chemical or hazardous odors. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Olfactory Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Be unable to recognize familiar or very common smells.
  • Accidentally eat spoiled food or nonedible, potentially harmful substances.
  • Be unable to detect hazardous chemical or burning odors. However, they might be vaguely aware that something is wrong.

How to Support Olfactory Discrimination Disorders:

  • Practice reading and understanding expiration dates, food labels, and all kinds of household packaging. This will help your child avoid spoiled food and other harmful substances.
  • Practice observing the way others react when smelling a dangerous or unpleasant odor. Teach your child to use these reactions to identify potentially harmful substances.

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.

How to Support Visual Discrimination Disorder

Visual discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to process visual information, such as brightness, distance, shape, or size. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Visual Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Have difficulty distinguishing between letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Be slow to recognize characteristics of objects, such as size, shape, or color.
  • Be unable to judge the distance between people and other objects.
  • Have difficulty reading the facial expressions and emotional cues of others.

How to Support Visual Discrimination Disorder:

  • Label or color-code similar objects, such as books or study materials, and keep them in a designated place.
  • Play outdoor games, such as catch or soccer, to practice coordination and gauging the distance between people and objects.
  • Play games to practice grouping like items together. (“Can you find everything in the room that is a circle? Every picture in the book that is related to sports or food?”)
  • Play games to practice distinguishing between numbers, letters, and symbols. (“d and b, 5 and S, S and $—are these the same or different?”)
  • Assign chores that have a large visual component, such as matching socks, putting away silverware, or sweeping the floor.

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.

How to Support Vestibular Discrimination Disorder

Vestibular discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to interpret movement, including the speed and direction of one’s own body. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Vestibular Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Appear clumsy or uncoordinated.
  • Have poor posture or jerky, awkward movements.
  • Have difficulty determining their head or body position.
  • Be unable to determine their speed and direction of movement.
  • Have difficulty distinguishing right vs. left and may not appear to have a dominant hand.
  • Be unable to tell when they’re starting to fall and unable to catch themselves in time.
  • Have poor spatial awareness and depth perception.

How to Support Vestibular Discrimination Disorder:

  • Hold your child’s hand while walking to provide grounding and support.
  • Be cautious and attentive around bicycles, swings, and other playground equipment.
  • Play games to practice telling the difference between right and left, forwards and backwards, etc. (“Watch me spin in a circle—am I turning to the right or left? Now you try turning to the right.”)
  • Play games to practice balancing and preventing falls. Have your child sit in on a bicycle while you stand in front with a firm grip on the handle bars. Slowly tilt the bike in either direction and have him/her practice placing the correct foot down before falling.

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.

How to Support Gustatory Discrimination Disorder

Gustatory discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to detect, interpret, and recognize tastes, including chemical or hazardous flavors. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Gustatory Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Be unable to detect flavor or distinguish between flavors.
  • Seem to have an unusually low appetite and/or be underweight.

How to Support Olfactory Discrimination Disorders:

  • Set and stick to a meal and snack schedule. Set an alarm to help your child know when it’s time to eat.
  • Incorporate calorie rich meals and snacks into your child’s diet, such as protein shakes or chocolate milk.
  • Practice reading and understanding expiration dates, food labels, and all kinds of household packaging. This will help your child avoid spoiled food and other harmful substances.
  • Practice observing the way others react when tasting something that is dangerous or unpleasant. Teach your child to use these reactions to identify potentially harmful substances.

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.

How to Support Proprioception Discrimination Disorder

Proprioception discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to detect or respond to touch, pressure, or movement. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Proprioception Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Be unable to determine how much force they’re exerting on toys, pencils, etc.
  • Be unable to walk through familiar rooms in the dark without bumping into things.
  • Accidentally hurt themselves or others while playing.
  • Be unable to walk up or down stairs without watching their feet.

How to Support Proprioception Discrimination Disorders:

  • Practice writing on different textures, such as tissue paper, to determine how much force to use.

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.

How to Support Interoception Discrimination Disorder

Interoception discrimination disorder affects one’s ability to detect or respond to internal bodily cues. It is one of the eight subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder (SDD) and one of many manifestations of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Learn more about SPD and its subtypes here.

See below for some ways to identify and support discrimination challenges.

Those with Interoception Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Have disproportionately weak reactions—or no reaction—to normal bodily cues.
  • Have a high pain threshold and may not notice when injured.
  • Be unable to register hunger, thirst, or the need to use the bathroom until it’s an emergency.
  • Be unable to detect increased heart rate or breathing and may not feel tired until totally exhausted.

How to Support Interoception Discrimination Disorders:

  • Practice ways to identify normal bodily processes, such as placing your hand on your chest to feel a racing heartbeat.
  • Use the bathroom or have a small snack before each new activity or transition, such as getting into the car or going to bed.
  • Work with an occupational therapist or develop self-regulation strategies.

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.