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Autism. Sensory Integration. Tactile Desensitization Thesis

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Updated: Dec 25th, 2019


The development of individuals begins at the very early stages in life. Through the lifetime of an individual, the individual receives different types of information. The nature of development of the individual’s nervous system will influence the reception and interpretation of information by their sensory system.

Sensory integration activities like playing with toys in children often help in the general development of the individual. However, the activities may not work well for children with autism. Autism is a disorder that is related to the central nervous system. It has much to do with the brain development of an individual from the very early ages.

Essentially, it interferes with the interpretation of the information in the brains of the victim and as such, the autistic individuals have problems in social interaction and communication (Shriver, 2010). The poor development that is recorded at the early stages in life is likely to affect the development of different skills by the individuals even in the adult stages

The signs that are associated with the disorder are varied among different individuals and are often seen from the difficulties that the individuals have. These individuals often have a problem in communication. They cannot have an effective verbal or non-verbal communication (Shriver, 2010). The individuals also have a problem in their social development.

They often have difficulties in interacting with the others and sharing their emotions. They are not able to share ideas with the others or show a feeling for them. Besides, the autistic children often have problems in executing non-repetitive procedures. They have problems in performing tasks that do not involve daily routines (Shriver, 2010, para.5).

Activities like sports, for instance have irregular procedures that may not be easily performed by the individuals with these disorders. It is important to mention that no medications are available that can be used to manage the complete autistic disorders. However, there are procedures that can be applied to reduce the adverse effects of the disorder in the effected individuals.

Different literature materials are available that address autism and a group of disorders with the same signs and how they can be managed. The literatures touch on the signs and symptoms of the disorders and the possible ways of minimizing the problems emanating from the disorders.

Some literatures attempt to investigate the exact cause(s) of the disorders but have not provided substantial evidences for their research outcomes. This paper describes the views of different authors on the appropriate social and pragmatic models that can be used to promote the development of language and social skills in the students with this disorder.

The review

In a given society, there are individuals that are affected by the Autism Spectrum Disorders. In the article A population-based twin study of parentally reported tactile and auditory defensiveness in young children, Goldsmith et al (2006) observed that there existed a wide range of these disorders among individuals. There are mild cases of autism among the students and these students can engage in all the activities as the normal students.

On the other hand, there are severe cases of autism and the victims are often unable to engage in different activities in school that involves social interaction and communication like sports. Similarly, some categories of individuals were seen to be more likely to suffer the disorders than the others were. These individuals need not to be excluded from the activities due to the disorders.

Rather, appropriate procedures need to be instituted that help improve on their abilities that have been impaired. Even for the individuals with mild autism, the disorder might have some negative effects on their social and cognitive development and so there is a need to identify and manage them.

It is also necessary to note that some of the autistic students who are severely disabled in different areas may have desirable skills and abilities in fields like arts, crafts, or music. There are different procedures that can be used understand and solve the problem of the children with autism. One approach is tactile desensitization. The tactile system consists of the sensory system in the skin.

The skin has a number of receptors that detect and respond to different stimuli. It has been observed that children with autism have an abnormal development of the tactile sensory system that leads to misinterpretation of the information received by these receptors.

Such children often react violently and negatively to unexpected touch and their sensory system is not properly developed to interpret a given stimulus accurately- they overreact to a given stimulus. These children are said to be tactile defensive. Tactile desensitization refers to the procedures of reducing the hypersensitivity of the skin of tactile defensive child to touch experiences.

In their article Tactile Defensiveness in Children with Developmental Disabilities: Responsiveness and Habituation, Baranek and Berkson (1994) concentrates mainly on the lack of control of impulses by the autistic children. They identify tactile defensiveness (TD) as one of the characteristics associated with autism and the related developmental disorders.

The victims are described to react violently, negatively and emotionally to tactile stimulation. The study involved an investigation into different aspects of tactile defensiveness in the schoolchildren with retarded development: intensity, duration, and latency of the responses. The hypotheses of the study were that there the levels of tactile defensiveness in these children were positively associated with the large responsiveness and negatively associated with habituation rates to tactile stimulus generated.

Baranek and Berkson had observed that the management of tactile defensiveness has often applied the procedures that inhibit defensive responses in the individuals. These include brushing and inducing touch pressure among others (Baranek & Berkson, 1994, p.459).

There were certain observations that were made from the study. The research showed that there was enough evidence for the differential sensitivity in children with tactile defensiveness. The individuals that had been recorded to have high levels of TD before the experiment were also seen to have greater responsiveness in the experiment.

It was also observed that the repeated stimulation did not decrease the responses significantly. They also observed that there was evidence tactile defensiveness was negatively correlated with the developmental age of the victims. In An inside View of Autism, Temple Grandin, an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University, describes her life experience as an autistic person from childhood. She describes the problems that she experienced.

Despite the problems, she sheds light on how she managed to excel in a professional career. One of the problems that yield frustrations to Grandin is inability to speak well. The other problem that she experiences is sensory problems. Her senses are described to be oversensitive to loud nice and touch (Grandin, 2011). The other problem that was experienced was related to the auditory system.

She was not able to modulate the incoming auditory stimulus. She was particularly uncomfortable with loud noises. The problem of speech was managed quite well by language-speech therapy. Grandin understood well a speech from adults. On the other hand, her response in the conversations was often stagnated by her inability to get the words out accurately.

The speech therapist noted that when Grandin was subjected to a little pressure, then the obstruction could be overcome and the words could come out quite well. The reverse was true if no pressure was induced. The amount of pressure to be induced also influenced the results. If the victim was subjected to too much pressure, she often burst into tears as a way of revealing that she was not willing to do a given action.

The tactile problems gave the victim more frustrations. Her skin was supersensitive to changes in the clothing. She became used to the clothes that were worn on most days of the week and a change of clothes on Sunday caused irritation. She was not able to adapt to the feeling of different types of clothes in a short period as the others do.

She observes that some of these tactile sensitivities can be managed through desensitization. She notes that if she had exposed to different types of clothing regularly, she would not have experienced the problems. Rubbing the skin with different types of clothing regularly is described to be an effective way of reducing the hypersensitivity of the nerve endings in the skin.

Grandin asserts that there are medications that can be used to heal certain symptoms of the autistic disorders. She has been taking some antidepressants that have been doing well in helping her manage stress. The family history of the autistic children is also described to be very important in the understanding and managing the disorder in these children.

Autism and the related disorders are also seen to occur more likely in certain groups of individuals. The knowledge of these groups and the kind of association involved can be helpful in managing the disorders. Baron-Cohen et al (1998) conducted a study to validate a claim that autism is common in families whose occupation requires folk physics as compared to folk psychology.

In their study Autism occurs more often in families of physicists, engineers, and mathematicians, Baron-Cohen et al compared those involved in occupations such as mathematics, physics, and engineering that apply folk physics against the others like literature that apply folk psychology. The research revealed that cases of autism were seen to be more frequent in families of students who studied courses in physics, engineering, and mathematics as compared to their counterparts who studied literature course.

In their study, Baron-Cohen et al illuminate the two basic cognitive domains that affect the cognitive development in an individual. Folk psychology is involved with the individual’s social understanding whereas the folk physics is concerned with the understanding of the inanimate objects.

The proportion of, or inclination to, these domains in a young child will reflects on the child’s perception of information relating to social and/or the inanimate object understanding. The deficit in folk psychology in comparison to folk physics in those involved in mathematics, physics and engineering is portrayed to be the reason behind the many cases of autism in such families. Such information is essential in identifying and managing problems related to autism in children.

In another study Sex Differences in tactile defensiveness in children with ADHD and their siblings, Broring et al (2008) also studied the variability of different individuals to autistic disorders. In particular, their study was aimed at comparing the tactile defensiveness in males and females with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The study also investigated the presence of tactile defensiveness in the non-affected siblings of children with ADHD. A number of observations were made in the study. It was observed that the TD levels for children with ADHD were higher than the TD levels for those in the control group (Broring et al, 2008, p.131).

It was also observed that the TD levels for females with ADHD were relatively higher than the TD levels of their male counterparts. The results of the study shows that tactile defensiveness is dependent on the sex of an individual and this is essential in identifying cases of ADHD in children. These will also be useful in developing good diagnostic and therapeutic measures to help the individuals with these disorders.

In Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), Shriver also asserts that autism manifests itself in different ways in different people, which is collectively termed as the autism spectrum disorder. She identifies difficulties in communication and social interaction as some of the problems with the autistic students.

She also points out that the individuals with these disorders have a problem in performing tasks without routine procedures or that do not require repetitive behaviors. Altering the procedures often affects their performance, as they will take longer to master the new steps to be followed.

Shriver notes that there are no proper medications for victims of the disorders though there are some medications that can be used to treat some symptoms of the disorder. However, she asserts that certain mechanisms are available that can be used in minimizing the problems associated with the disorder. Firstly, she notes that different therapeutic procedures can be applied on victims of autism.

The ability of social interaction in autistic students can be improved through behavior management therapy. Their communication ability can be improved through the administration of speech-language therapy. The individuals can also be assisted to identify their skills and abilities through occupational therapy. Most important, the adverse effects of the condition can be minimized through administration of physical therapy and body massage.

Performing physical exercise can help improve the functions of the nervous system and thus reduce the severity of the disorder. Secondly, Shriver observes that the learning institutions should also develop programs that educate the public on the management of the disorder. It should be the responsibility of the parents, teachers, and the other stakeholders in the school and the society.

Various researchers have been conducted to investigate the causes of these disorders. Some of these researchers have suggested a relation between the vaccines that are given to individuals at the early stages and the occurrence of the disorders. Shriver points out that there is no proper evidence for the relationship between the vaccines and autism.

She affirms that there are no proper indications that the materials that are used in developing the vaccines can cause autism. The author identifies three different groups of individuals that have higher chances of being associated with the ASDs. She points out that boys are more likely to have the disorders as compared to the female counterparts.


Similarly, individuals whose brothers and sisters have the disorders are also more likely to have the disorder. The other category includes individuals with other developmental problems. These considerations can be effective in identifying the individuals with mild autism.

Thus, there are evidences for measures to manage different symptoms of autistic disorders. Measures like tactile desensitization can be effective in managing hyperactive responses to stimuli in autistic children. It should also important to note that the vulnerability of different groups of individuals to these disorders is very essential in developing the appropriate corrective measures. It is also necessary to consider the vulnerability of different categories of individuals to the disorder.


Baranek, G. and Berkson, G. (1994). Tactile Defensiveness in Children with Developmental Disabilities: Responsiveness and Habituation. Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, 24(4); 457-471. Web.

Baron-Cohen, S. et al. (1998). Autism occurs more often in families of Physicists, Engineers, and Mathematicians. Autism, 2: 296-301. Web.

Broring, T. et al (2008). Sex differences in tactile defensiveness in children with ADHD and their siblings Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology 50(2); 129-133. Web.

Goldsmith, H. (2006). A population-based twin study of parentally reported tactile and auditory defensiveness in young children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34(3); 393–407. Web.

Grandin Temple. (2011). . Web.

Shriver, E. K. (2010). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Web.

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