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Child with Tactile Dysfunction and Autism Biting Table

Sensory overload is something that we all experience to a degree, but those with Autism Spectrum Disorder often also have a Sensory Processing Disorder or sensory integration difficulties. This means autistic individuals tend to be more easily and more heavily impacted by their sensory surroundings. This is a seven part series in which I will address the different types of sensory disorders and help you identify them and find some solutions. This third blog post addresses Tactile Dysfunction.

Tactile Dysfunction, a fancy sounding medical term, basically means a dysfunctionality regarding the sense of touch.  For people on the autism spectrum, having tactile dysfunction can be quite common.  As far as our five senses go, touch is fundamental to the learning of our surroundings and the activities of everyday life. This can range from being hypersensitive (over sensitive) to being hyposensitive (under sensitive). 

For this reason, it is important to be educated on the signs and symptoms of tactile dysfunction in order to get possible early treatment.  For instance, sensory bins and having a sensory diet have been known help acclimate an individual’s tolerance to tactile stimulation.


Tactile hypersensitivity also known as Tactile Defensiveness, is being over sensitive to light touch, in a way that is unpleasant and irritating.  As with other sensory processing disorders, this may manifest through an individual’s behavior, such as with breakdowns or tantrums.  In particular, everyday activities can become challenges: such as getting dressed with the right clothes in the morning, being overwhelmed with the sensations of wind when outside, or even being unable to tolerate certain food sensations during meals.

Child with Tactile Dysfunction and Autism getting Dressed

How do I identify hypersensitivity to touch?

People who are hypersensitive to touch tend to avoid touch from others, such as kisses or hugs.  As a toddler, this can result in a refusal to be held, which coupled with an avoidance of eye contact, are tell-tale signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Certain clothing fabrics such as tight shirts, bras, hats or jeans are often too uncomfortable as well.  Daily grooming activities such as brushing one’s hair or teeth can also trigger hypersensitivity.  They may also be very picky about what food they eat because of the particular sensations and textures that go along with it.

What techniques can I use to help someone who is hypersensitive to touch?

  • Deep Pressure Therapy tools such as vests or blankets
  • Deep Pressure Massages i.e. hand squeeze up and down the arms
  • Sensory Bins
  • Provide verbal cues before initiating physical contact
  • Teach friends and family to use firm touch when showing signs of affection
  • Buy tagless/seamless clothing to reduce irritation


A lack of sensitivity to tactile sensations is hypo-tactility, in which an individual may look to actively experience sensations specifically through touch rather than avoiding it.  Parents may notice that their child actively engages in physical contact with them more often, which can be a relief for many.  On the other hand, hypo-tactility can severely limit one’s awareness of dangerous tactile situations, such as a change in temperature or even breaking a bone without noticing.  Generally, it is important to keep an extra eye out for children who are hyposensitive to touch because they are more prone to seeking out sensory information with their bodies, while simultaneously not noticing when they have hurt themselves.  Due to this lack of tactile awareness, they are also at risk of becoming that child who is dirty but never realizes it:

Child with Tactile Dysfunction and Autism getting Messy

How do I identify hyposensitivity to touch?

Some signs of being hyposensitive to touch includes being unusually rough or aggressive when interacting with others; this can be particularly evident when the child is playing with other children or with toys.  Hugging very tightly and banging their heads against a wall may also be ways that hypo-tactile people try to experience the sensation of touch.  Being unaware of their own physical safety and having a lack of regard as to how they are hurting others are also clear indicators.

What techniques can I use to help someone who is hyposensitive to touch?

(Many of the same techniques work for both hypersensitivity and hypo-sensitivity)

  • Deep Pressure Therapy tools such as vests or blankets
  • Deep Pressure Massages i.e. hand squeeze up and down the arms
  • Sensory Bins
  • Sensory chew toys
  • Teach friends and family to use firm touch when showing signs of affection
  • Teach them how to acknowledge a bruise, scrape or cut in order to be aware of their physical safety
  • Verbally communicate how their physical actions affect others and their environment

If you liked this article, check out these:

             Goofy falling from Proprioceptive Dysfunction                                           Boy who is sensitive from Visual Sensory Processing Disorder

What is Proprioceptive Dysfunction?                     What is Visual Sensory Processing Disorder?



  Person sensitive from Auditory Sensory Overload                                       What is Olfactory Dysfunction?

What is Auditory Sensory Overload?                            What is Olfactory Dysfunction?


Written by Ryan Leung — October 16, 2015



Very good information.

October 27 2015

Jay Smith:

This is a question more than a comment. How does one treat tactile sensitivity?

June 19 2017

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