One of our children, our son, deals with tactile defensiveness daily. These posts talk about our experience with him as he faces his challenges and what we’ve learned and would like to share to help others continue moving forward. Maybe our experiences can be of benefit to you.
The other day, I was talking to my youngest daughter about her picky eating. She commented about how she is a picky eater, but her brother is a picky eater, and he has an excuse. Then she said she was so sorry about being a picky eater. After some thought, I realized my family has two types of picky eaters.
Our Picky Eater #1 – My Son
Our family’s number one picky eater is my son. He has tactile defensiveness. (Read more about his challenges with tactile defensiveness). If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve heard about it, but for a quick overview, my son doesn’t like how things feel on his skin. This also includes how food feels in his mouth. Because he has tactile defensiveness in his mouth, he has difficulty eating certain foods.
Finding something for him to eat at mealtime is challenging and a daily struggle. He won’t eat anything slimy or gooey, such as soup or pasta with any sauce. What usually ends up happening is he will find something he likes to eat, and then he eats that until he doesn’t like it anymore, and then the process starts all over. This makes it hard for me to make dinner for him. He will usually try something new if it doesn’t look too gooey. A lot of the time, I typically have to find something else for him to eat other than what we are having for dinner.
I know there are a lot of you out there who are probably saying make him eat what you cook. With him, it just isn’t that simple. I try to make food for dinner that he will eat, but sometimes, I like to make what I want to eat. I make him try it, and sometimes he will, but he often doesn’t like how it feels in his mouth. So, with him, I try to do the best I can.
Our Picky Eater #2 – My Youngest Daughter
Our family’s number two picky eater is my youngest daughter. She doesn’t like anything. Listen, I mean anything when I say she doesn’t like anything. I try to make a variety of food for her, but she won’t eat anything. She is the most stubborn person I have ever met! Her essential meal is pasta but without sauce. It’s just plain old pasta, sometimes with melted butter. There are very few other things that she will eat.
It is hard to explain why she has to eat something when her brother doesn’t. She has grown up watching her brother being a picky eater, so she comes by it honestly and thinks she doesn’t have to eat something if he doesn’t. She is still young and doesn’t fully understand her brother’s condition. We have tried explaining it to her, but it is hard for her to comprehend. Now that she is getting older, she is starting to understand, but that hasn’t made up for the years of her picky eating.
I believe most of her picky eating comes from being afraid. She’s often afraid to try something new and thinks she will not like it, so she doesn’t try it.
How Do I Handle My Family’s Picky Eaters?
Now that you understand more about what kind of picky eaters I have, you are probably wondering how I handle it. Honestly, there is no magical way to handle it. The best thing I do to help them with their picky eating is encouragement. I try to encourage them to try new foods. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it feels like such a milestone for me and for them.
Is there some magical way to get your picky eater to eat? I am going to say no. I think each child is different. What works with my son doesn’t work with my daughter. I would do the best you can with your child. They can be stubborn, that is for sure. I must remind myself to keep going constantly; you are doing great!
I would love to hear from anyone with a picky eater and how they deal with it. I often feel at my wits’ end. Please comment and share your knowledge so we can all help each other.
- Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via these links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclaimers for more information.
When my son was first diagnosed with tactile defensiveness, we had to do a lot of occupational therapy with him. We took him to an occupational therapist but also had some in-home occupational therapy. I learned a lot from these therapy sessions. I want to share three activities that my son liked the most.
#1 – Sensory Bins
Sensory bins are a great therapy activity to do with kids who have tactile defensiveness. To create a sensory bin first take a couple bags of rice and dump it into a medium size container. We always used a container that had a lid, so we could just store it for later. Spread a blanket out on your floor and put the container in the middle of the blanket. Gather a some small toys that your child enjoys playing with and hide them in the rice. Have your child dig through the rice and find their toys. This makes a mess, so you have a blanket to catch spilled rice under the container.
Don’t push your child too much to start digging in the rice. Let them go at their own pace. It helps them if you play along in the rice with them and show them how to find their toys. Eventually, they will do this on their own. My son used his little pointer finger to dig in the rice the first time he did this. He did not like the feel of the rice on his hands at all. After several times doing this activity, he finally would dig through the rice with both of his hands. I would also give him spoons and cups, and he would scoop up the rice and put it in the cup. Once he was comfortable playing in the rice, I would have him put his bare feet in it. Once again, he did not like this initially but eventually got used to it. After a while, you can get the container out, and your child should be able to play in it independently.
You can also put dried beans or uncooked noodles in the sensory bin. I had three separate sensory beans with rice, beans, and noodles. When I wanted my son to do therapy, I would get one of the containers out. This would keep him occupied for at least an hour.
Amazon.com also offers some sensory bins available for sale, if you don’t want to make one yourself. Here’s a couple of quick and easy options!
- A Dinosaur Themed Sensory Bin (via Amazon.com)
- A Farm Themed Sensory Bin (via Amazon.com)
- A Sensory Kids Table (via Amazon.com)
#2 – Shaving Cream Play
Shaving cream play is another great therapy activity to do with kids who have tactile defensiveness. This activity is very messy, so I would recommend doing it on a table. Take a cookie sheet and spray shaving cream onto it. You can start with just a little at first, or you can do a lot. Put toy cars or other small toys in the shaving cream. I liked to drive the cars through the shaving cream with my son. Show your child how fun it is to play in the shaving cream. The hope is that your child will start playing with you.
Shaving cream play was more difficult than the sensory bins for my son. He started out moving his car around with one finger. If he got too much shaving cream on his finger, he would need to wipe it off. Over time, he eventually put his hand in the shaving cream.
Another thing that you can use in place of the shaving cream is pudding. If you can get them to put the pudding in their mouth, that is huge. My son would never do this, but maybe your child will.
#3 – Water Table Play
If you can, I would invest in a water table. It doesn’t have to be a big one, a small one will do. Our son loved this therapy activity because it allowed him to really use his imagination, and he loved playing in the water. We started with just water in the water table with a couple of fun toys. After our son was comfortable with just the water and toys we started adding additional things to the water. A few ideas of things we added were bubbles, water beads, and artificial snow. You can use anything you can think of as long as you can clean it out of the table. Plus, water table play is a great activity in the summer months when the kids can be outside.
Water table play was my son’s favorite of all of the therapy activities we did. He would spend hours outside playing with the water table.
These therapy activities are great for any child but especially great for kids with tactile defensiveness. I hope that these activities help you as much as they helped my son and me. Do you have any activities that you do to help your child with tactile defensiveness? I would love to hear all of your ideas! Remember, you don’t have to be perfect when helping your child. You just need to do your best!
Our son has had a lot of different challenges with tactile defensiveness, from being delayed in learning to walk to his not wanting to touch slimy, gooey things; however, the unexpected biggest challenge that we have had for almost fourteen years since his diagnosis has been the difficulty he has with eating.
When our son received a tactile defensiveness diagnosis, we thought it was just a sensitivity to his skin. It took us a while to realize that he also had some sensory problems in his mouth. Until then, I had always thought he was just a picky eater. Once I started paying a little more attention to his eating, I realized that he would only eat certain types of food, and it was based on their texture.
Our son was about 18 months old when we got his tactile defensiveness diagnosis. By that point, he was off a bottle and eating solid foods. He struggled with it once he got old enough to eat baby food. He did not like it. He never took to rice cereal. I could get him to eat a few fruits, but that was it. He ate a little better when he started eating solid foods, but not much. He was a little closer to two years old when we finally realized he had sensitivity issues in his mouth.
When he was young, our son had four main foods that he would eat: chicken nuggets, quesadillas, frozen burritos, and mac and cheese. That was it. I have no idea how or why he ate mac and cheese or the burrito because they are both a little gooey. Eventually, he stopped eating burritos; to this day, I can’t get him to eat any. He would eat a lot of snacky foods like crackers and pretzels. He would never eat yogurt or applesauce. He would look at food, decide it was gooey, and have nothing to do with it. I couldn’t even get him to try something new; he would refuse to put it in his mouth if it looked gooey. He didn’t like the look of sauce on pizza, so he didn’t have his first piece of pizza until he was five or six years old.
As he grew older, getting him to try new foods became a little easier. He eats a lot better now, but he still isn’t a great eater. He never eats fruits or veggies because he didn’t eat them as a kid. Right now, I try to get him to try them, and he will take a bite, but he doesn’t like them. The one thing he will refuse to try, even at his age, is soup. I love to make soup in the winter, but he will not try it. I have tried bribing him, and he still won’t try it.
Eating is such a chore for him at this point in his life. I love to cook, and I love food. I love to try different recipes. However, he doesn’t like to sit down and eat. It is just a pain for him. He picks at his food and takes little nibbles so it can take him a long time to eat.
As you can imagine he is very skinny and we are always concerned about him gaining weight. I always have to ensure he gets enough calories daily to gain weight or at least not lose any. As I continue to work with him on his eating, I will try to share recipes he will eat. He does enjoy chicken, so if anyone has any ideas on recipes he might enjoy, I would love to hear about new recipes!
Looking back over the years, I realize that there were so many things I had to learn about tactile defensiveness. These five things stand out the most and that I wish I had known from the very beginning.
It’s important to understand that tactile defensiveness is something a person will carry throughout their life. It’s not something that disappears or goes away over time.
When my son was diagnosed with tactile defensiveness, our therapist never explained to us that this was something that he would always have to deal with. He told us what tactile defensiveness was, but that was it. I had to go out to the car and call my husband to have him look up what it meant for our son to be diagnosed. We were young, and this was our first child; I didn’t know what questions to ask. Knowing what I know now, I would have asked many follow-up questions.
We learned quickly after researching that he would have to deal with this his whole life. Our job as a parent was to help him learn how to cope with tactile defensiveness. We were there to help him learn and understand the skills he would need to improve his daily life.
You will spend most of their younger lives explaining tactile defensiveness to others.
No one knew what tactile defensiveness was when we talked to everyone in our families on both sides. Everyone had heard of sensory issues but not tactile defensiveness. We had to explain it to every person we spoke to. When he started school, we would meet with his new teacher every year and explain what he had. In those younger years, he sometimes had trouble with snack time in preschool. He also wouldn’t do crafts if he didn’t like touching the items they used, such as feathers or even the glue he wouldn’t like if it got on his fingers. Once he was out of elementary school, we didn’t need to meet with his teachers. We even had to tell the ladies that would cut his hair because he would always scrunch his shoulders up when they would cut his hair. He did not like the feeling of the hair falling on his face and neck.
Tactile defensiveness is a condition that many doctors are not familiar with.
I was a little surprised that I had to explain tactile defensiveness to every one of his doctors. I had to explain it to his primary care doctor, which is the one who gave us the reference to the physical therapist who diagnosed our son.
We had to explain tactile defensiveness to his dentists. As you can imagine, with his sensitive mouth, the dentist was an issue for several years. Now that he is older, he can handle going to the dentist.
Once our son was diagnosed with ADHD, we ended up going to a specialist to help us with him and to discuss medication. We had to explain TD to him, and I have learned since then that children with ADHD can sometimes have TD.
I have been surprised at how many professionals we have had to explain tactile defensiveness to over the years.
Because tactile defensiveness is not something you can physically see, It is hard to explain to your children and others why and how it can affect their everyday lives.
Since most people have no idea what tactile defensiveness is, it can be challenging for you to explain the symptoms of it to other people so that they understand. Our son couldn’t even walk because of tactile defensiveness. We had to train him to feel things on the bottom of his feet for him to start walking. People would assume he was late learning to walk, but that wasn’t the case.
For my son, explaining why he has difficulty eating has been the most challenging aspect of tactile defensiveness. This challenge is what he has to deal with every single day. And not every day but also every single meal. This one is the hardest because, once again, people assume he is a picky eater, which is not the case. We even had a therapist tell us when he was younger that it was all in his head.
Comments like that were and are very hurtful because it is not all in his head. It is a physical struggle. This is why it is so hard for people to understand him. They think it is just in his head, or he is making it up.
You always seem to be by yourself as a parent and wish someone would understand. His meal times are just one of his daily struggles with tactile defensiveness. There are many meals where he has to have something different to eat because of the texture of what the rest of our family is eating.
The small milestones are the greatest!
I wanted to end on an upbeat note. When your child has tactile defensiveness, no one tells you that the little milestones are some of the greatest joys. When we first discovered he had tactile defensiveness, he wouldn’t put his feet down on anything, not even my lap. The day that he finally stood up on my lap was the happiest moment up to that point. We celebrated even more when he finally put his little feet in the grass. It was the little milestones like these that no one tells you you will be so excited about.
Now that our son is older, the milestones are fewer and far between, but we still get excited and celebrate with him when he has a milestone. Nowadays, it is mostly when he can put a new food in his mouth!!
For those of you who have just received a diagnosis of tactile defensiveness in your young child, I hope this list helps you over the years. Just know that you are not alone in this, even though some days it feels like no one understands!
- Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via these links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclaimers for more information.
When my son was in elementary school, he started having a problem chewing little pieces of paper. I am honestly not sure if it was because of his tactile defensiveness or if it was from his ADHD, but it was constant and becoming a problem.
He would chew little pieces of paper and then put them on the floor. Then get a new one and do the same thing. By the time school was over for the day, he had tiny pieces of paper all over the floor underneath his desk.
The first grade that I remember his habit being a problem was in the second grade. His second-grade teacher is the one who brought this habit to my attention. We tried different things that school year to help him stop doing it. Here’s what we tried to stop our son’s chewing habit.
His teacher allowed him to chew gum in class, but that didn’t work because he would spit the gum out and not in the garbage can. We also tried sending him to school with Tic Tacs that he could suck on. This didn’t work because he would eat them and didn’t suck on them.
Since neither worked and his teacher didn’t want him chewing on paper, he started chewing on pencils. Once again, at the end of the day, he would have little pieces of wood pencils on the floor underneath his desk.
By the end of second grade, we could not solve the problem, and when he got to third grade, it was still a problem.
His third-grade teacher did not like him chewing on paper. This is the year that we were introduced to sensory chewing necklaces. These can be found easily on Amazon.com using a search term like, Sensory Chew Necklaces.
A sensory chewing necklace has a round rubber medallion that they wear, and when they get the urge to chew, they can chew on the medallion.
Our son tried this for a week, but then he got embarrassed and stopped wearing it to school. I’m guessing the kids said something to him. You can buy sensory chewing necklaces with a block that looks like a Lego. I thought that would be perfect because he loves Legos, but he was still embarrassed to wear it.
When that didn’t work, we discovered chewable pencil toppers. We found a pencil topper that looked like a Lego. That worked pretty well for him for quite some time. Until he either lost them or they got stolen from him.
Starting in fourth grade, his teachers didn’t care. They said it isn’t a big deal if the vacuum can pick up the little pieces of paper.
He did get made fun of when he was in fifth grade, and that is when he started to hide it a little bit more. He still was chewing paper, but rather than dropping them on the floor, he would put them into his pockets. Lucky me, when I did his laundry, I would find all of these little tiny, tiny wads of paper in his pockets.
Now that he is sixteen, he still chews on things, but not like he used to. We have accepted that he likes to chew on different things, and we wouldn’t change him for anything.
Hopefully, this helps anyone with a child who likes to chew on things. Even though the sensory chew toys didn’t work for us, it is very possible they could work for you. There are so many more options out there for sensory than there used to be. It takes patience with some trial and error to find the right strategy for your child!!