The Texture Of Things

Advances in Texture: Air

December 5th, 2007

Before I had a kid, I thought all children liked to be naked, possibly all the time naked. The tot surprised me in this regard. Shocker, I know.

First off, she has always been a child who does not like to be cold. Ever. So I always kept her clothed except at changing times and bath times and I bundled her throughout her first fall and winter. When the weather started to break the following spring, I put her in one of the seven hundred and three cute outfits that she finally fit into and took her outside. She hated it.

Hated. It.


what i remember of this day is that it was my first mother’s day.* i set her in the grass and she was mildly distressed. she kept lifting her legs simultaneously in order to get the bare parts out of the grass. she looked like she was trying to levitate. lifting her legs messed with her balance, which made her put her hands down, which distressed her. i distracted her with the stick. i was not actually poking her with it.


What I didn’t know at the time is that someone who is tactile defensive has to get accustomed to every sensation, including that of air on bare skin. Imagine, if you will, the feeling of the first time you wear shorts outside after a long spell of pants or of staying inside. Clothing is protective because it dulls the feeling of everything against your skin and it’s a very predicable sensation, particularly if the clothing item is familiar.

As I understand it, our skin processes 4 kinds of information: warm, cold, pressure, pain. Our touch nerve endings don’t actually register hot as an individual input. The sensation “hot” is made up of warm and cold triggering together, which is why something really cold can almost feel like it’s burning you and something extremely hot has the same piercing feeling of ice cold. Add to that the fact that light touch runs along the same pathways as pain and what you get in the person hypersensitive to touch is someone for whom air-rustling-through-leg/arm-hair is processed as a painful sensation.**

I live with a pretty good example of light-touch = pain sensory experience. Say I have a small itch, like a wonky tag in my shirt. I have to be careful to either scratch it very lightly with my fingernails (so lightly as to almost tickle) or to rub it with a medium deep pressure touch; when I do not – when I scratch it like I see other people scratch a random itch – the relief of having scratched is followed immediately by the pain of a charley horse.

I have lived with this my whole life. I have, for the most part, quit sharing this experience with others because everyone has always reacted to this like I am probably a leper. I’m not. But, it’s not something that anyone is ever going to cure in pill form and I do not expect I will ever “outgrow it,” so I learn to cope by listening to and respecting my body’s feedback. Scratching lightly or rubbing with pressure can be considered a Compensatory Strategy – a strategy one develops in order to cope with an immediate problem. Another Compensatory Strategy could be removing the tag. The long term solution is Desensitization. That’s it. There is nothing else one can do to address tactile hypersensitivity but those two approaches.

The qualities of sensation the tot feels are beyond her ability to articulate and beyond my ability to detect. The pattern I see, however, is made up of: a preference for long sleeves and pants for the first few weeks (or more) of the warm seasons, even when it’s really too warm for that much clothing; a need for clothing to be “just so” (e.g., any coat or sweater must always be fastened all the way to the top) (this is pretty mild for the tot – some kids can’t tolerate a single wrinkle or twist in fabric); a brief panic when clothing is going over her head; whiny, whiny, whiny whining when the car windows are down or the breeze picks up while we’re outside; a dislike of being barefoot, mostly just when outside these days; and so on. I’m sure I’m forgetting some as I write this.

So, a year ago it was a big damned deal that one afternoon she took to running through a small pile of leaves I raked up. When the wind picked up and started blowing leaves around, we had to go in. Leaves okay, breeze maybe, breeze plus unpredictable leaves intolerable.

This past summer it was a big damned deal that I could put the windows down while we were driving, moreover that her curiosity about her own body has finally caught up and starting some time in late summer, she now wants to be naked, like, daily. I let her as much as possible, and as the cold has sidled in to Michigan (read: pounded us with brutal winds and unseasonably cold temps), she’s transitioned from naked to pantsless (pronounced: “pants-a-less”). This means she’ll deign to wear a shirt. For a while. Until she’s freezing cold, at which point she’ll need a turtleneck, a sweatshirt, pants, socks, a blanket, and snuggling.

There have been so many changes lately and in the last six months that I begin to wonder what the big deal ever was, before I started this blog. Maybe I’ve just replaced my expectations of what is normal with how things are. That’s fine. It’s going to be a long time until she eats like a typical kid, if she ever does, and I realize now that what will be a more lasting contribution to her life than a line in baby book that she ate broccoli at age ___*** is a healthy self-esteem and confidence that she is loved no matter what, that there will be things she’ll be good at, that there are always struggles to surmount, but those are the accomplishments that make life worth living.

This epiphany subject to clear by nightfall.


*For the baby-book record, in this picture she was eleven months old, cut her first tooth that day, was anemic but improving with treatment, was not crawling (never did), would not walk for about 6 more weeks. she weighed probably around 15 pounds and the outfit she is wearing is size 3-6 months. What a total peanut.

**Tickle runs on the same pathways as pain, which explains (for me, anyway) why a ticklish person recoils from a tickle as if it were pain.

***Sha. In our dreams. If that number ends up being a single digit, I will pass out in shock right where I stand.


  1. KLee says

    This is quite interesting. I knew that the Tot was hyper-sensitive to tactile stimuli, but I was not aware that you have a smidge of that as well.

    I think you’re quite right that certain people can have their pain receptors overloaded with what others might see as a light touch. I know that, for example, my FEET are so sensitive that the slightest touch to the soles of them causes me to jerk away rather violently. And, it’s an uncontrollable response. I can only imagine how hard it would be to process if you had that sort of sensation ALL OVER your body.

    Offspring and JF have no sensory issues, but they still walk around pantsless. That’s just a family quirk. 🙂

    December 10th, 2007 | #

  2. admin says

    KLee, your house must be so fun. 😉

    December 10th, 2007 | #

  3. Thornton says

    My Boy does not like grass, either. But he does enjoy being poked by a stick. And being beaten with his socks. And being kicked in the ribs. The kid laughs at just about everything.

    Just the other day, when I had changed his diaper and was getting ready to put his pants back on him, he finally repeated something he’s heard me say over and over.

    “No pants!”

    That’s My Boy.

    January 10th, 2008 | #

  4. admin says

    “No Pants!”? Why am I not surprised?

    January 10th, 2008 | #

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