Tactile defensiveness in Autism possibly caused by defect in brain white matter

Scientists and parents often wonder why children with autism react violently to light touch, often making self-care activities and wearing clothing difficult. Activities, such as teeth-brushing, hair combing, showers, and even wellness appointments can be extremely difficult.

A study published in February 2015 has found new clues. Tactile defensiveness of individuals with autism may have two main causes:

  1. Serotonin deficiency
  2. Defects in the brain’s white matter.

Research shows that because of a defect in the brain’s white matter, tactile information may be dispatched incorrectly to be processed by areas that process pain, and conversely, pain appears to be processed as a normal tactile information requiring no specific response.

Mendability offers many Sensory Enrichment Therapy protocols that help rehabilitate the sense of touch. The good news is that while children with autism may sometimes fight a soft cuddle or kiss, they will have no problem looking for a desired toy hidden in a bowl of raw rice, or manipulate a textured ball.

Using the interest of the curious child, and autistic children as just as curious about new objects as any children, Mendability elaborates activities which will help restore proper communication between the receptors on the skin and their final destinations in the cortex.

Many parents report that after only weeks on the therapy, their autistic child tolerates hair cuts, teeth brushing, dressing, and even accepts new foods that were previously rejected because of their textures. This also works for adults who have lived their whole lives avoiding and dreading certain tactile experiences.

A suggested sensory-based protocol to try:

The following exercise is part of the therapy and we invite you to try it with your child on the spectrum, a couple of times a day, for a few days, to see if it helps:

  • Fill a salad bowl with raw rice, dry corn or dry beans.
  • Hide a red marble or ball into the bowl.
  • Invite the individual with tactile defensiveness, to put their hand in the bowl and look for the marble without looking. If they had fun, do it again with the other hand.
    (A suggestion to prevent monumental mess: cover the two bowls with a shopping bag, knotted under the bowl, and make a small opening for the hand. This way, the urge to thrown the content around will be contained.)
Sensory Enrichment Therapy Activity for Tactile defensiveness in Autism

Sensory Enrichment Therapy Activity for Tactile defensiveness in Autism

Mendability is happy to offer you this exercise which is part of a full therapy program that helps children with autism recover from tactile defensiveness, and many more issues.

Please post your comments or questions below about your observations.


  • Schauder KB1, Muller CL2, Veenstra-VanderWeele J3, Cascio CJ. Genetic Variation in Serotonin Transporter Modulates Tactile Hyperresponsiveness in ASD. Res Autism Spectr Disord. 2015 Feb 1;10:93-100.
  • Campbell NG1, Zhu CB, Lindler KM, Yaspan BL, Kistner-Griffin E; NIH ARRA Consortium, Hewlett WA, Tate CG, Blakely RD, Sutcliffe JS. Rare coding variants of the adenosine A3 receptor are increased in autism: on the trail of the serotonin transporter regulome. Mol Autism. 2013 Aug 16;4(1):28. doi: 10.1186/2040-2392-4-28.
  • Libero LE1, DeRamus TP1, Lahti AC2, Deshpande G3, Kana RK. Multimodal neuroimaging based classification of autism spectrum disorder using anatomical, neurochemical, and white matter correlates. Cortex. 2015 Mar 3;66:46-59. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2015.02.008.
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