My Sensory Life: Touch

I often find it interesting to think about the complexity and design of the human body. Each of your fingertips has over 3,000 tactile receptors that send a message to our brain almost instantaneously to help us interpret the texture of a surface, temperature, and pressure. I know that’s not something people commonly think about, but they probably would when your sense of touch starts to go off the rails. For example, when you touch a hot stove and your brain doesn’t immediately process that it’s hot. Or when you feel every misplaced thread and seam that rubs against your skin. In situations like these, you want to know how sensory processing disorder comes into play with our sense of touch and find solutions or possible accommodations. Now if you’re looking for those exact scientific answers I don’t have them. All I have is my experience of living with a sensory processing disorder which may vary from someone else’s experience, so please do keep that in mind.

Textures are everywhere and sometimes I can’t help myself and I just have to touch them all. Very dramatic or intense textures can often provide sensory input for understimulated children. Although when you’re on the side of the spectrum that easily becomes overstimulated, neutral and plain textures are a better option. This plays a big factor when it comes to clothing. As a teenager in middle school, I often wanted to wear clothes that were popular and fashionable so clothing became a big struggle. The problem was much bigger than whether or not the clothing had a tag. It consisted of material, seams, buttons, zippers, pockets, and additional textures that determine the shape or design of the clothes. So I may love the look of a glitter lace dress but when I try it on and feel itchy, uncomfortable, and quite almost in pain. Then it’s just not for me. That doesn’t mean that I can’t dress fashionably anymore due to my sensory issues. But instead, I look and experiment with clothing that just might meet my needs. I enjoy wearing jeggings which are particularly leggings but look like jeans. I like these because they have no buttons, no zippers are made out of cotton, and sometimes may have back pockets. My shirts are often made out of cotton or have a silky feel to them. They are plain t-shirts that don’t include any zippers, lace, beads, tags, buttons, or anything that I don’t consider soft. I know that may not seem fancy but my priorities have changed since middle school and I now choose comfort over fashion. 

Do you enjoy weighted blankets or a very tight hug that squeezes you close? Someone understimulated would say yes and would rather find experiences like these very comforting. While the overstimulated person may feel like a simple hug and form-fitting clothes would be overbearing. In this perception of touch, I fall into the understimulated category. Weighted blankets and heavy pillows are relaxing but I’ll never turn down an opportunity for my fat cat to sit in my lap. Along this line, I do not mind wearing clothes that are tight on my skin. If you’re having a hard time grasping why someone would like excessive amounts of pressure on themselves. Imagine this, there’s zero gravity so you’re just floating around and whenever you bump into a wall, you feel like you just hit a pillow. And if you grasp something and pull it close to your chest, you almost feel like it’s going through you as if you’re a ghost. So having something incredibly heavy brings you back to reality as if you’re no longer having things just go through you or no longer have a numb feeling floating around. That’s why we love having that pressure upon us it brings back our sense of touch.

In my house, we literally need a sign that says ”caution food from the stove is hot.” Since this particular scenario tends to happen every meal. I serve myself food from the pot in the bowl and the pot didn’t seem hot so I sit down with my bowl and place a spoon inside. As I place my hands around the bowl it doesn’t even seem warm. So I lift up the spoon to my lips and dab the food against them and still can’t sense a hit of warmth. So I scoop up a spoonful and place it straight into my mouth where I instantly start gasping for air while saying hot hot hot. In an attempt to bring down the temperature in my mouth. Truly none of my tactile receptors had been able to sense the temperature of the pot, bowl, or food until my taste buds screamed in agony. Although I still ate happily because I love my mom’s cooking. Anyways the same thing happens when I’m faced with cold temperatures as well. In my house, there is no running water or water boiler to heat up water. So a pot of water on the stove is our substitute and once it reaches a desirable temperature I place it into a bucket and use it to take a shower. Well, I remember an occasion when my mom asked if I could prepare some water for her so she could take a shower. So I did as asked although when I took her the bucket she shuttered when she placed her hand inside and asked why it was so cold. I was confused. I thought it was perfectly suitable water to bathe with since I usually make it that temperature for myself. Although my mom disagreed and suggested that I make it warmer from now on. So now in more recent days, I use the weather app to dress appropriately for the weather. I also just simply ask for another opinion about the temperature of objects. While my mom gives her a friendly reminder that the food is hot. 

To wrap things up don’t underestimate the power of touch and how it can dramatically influence our lives from what we wear to holding a heavy cat in our lap. While on the flipside having an inaccurate sense of touch can be quite deceiving and difficult to overcome but not impossible.

Abigail Rivera
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