What is tactile defensiveness?

(From Sensory Integration and the Child, 25th Anniversary Edition, Ayres, 2005)

Tactile defensiveness is one type of sensory modulation disorder.  It is the tendency to react negatively and emotionally to touch sensations.  The reaction only occurs under certain conditions.  Tactile sensations are constantly entering everyone’s nervous system; however, most individuals are able to inhibit their perception of these sensations and prevent their nervous systems from responding to them.  Children with tactile defensiveness do not have enough of this inhibitory activity, and so many of these sensations make them feel uncomfortable.  These reactions to touching can interfere with their ability to engage in daily self-care tasks (ex. dressing, eating, bathing, brushing their teeth), participate at school (ex. playing tag, participating in art, standing in line, paying attention), or interact socially with family and friends (ex. holding hands, hugging, kissing, tickling).