Tactile Sensitivity in Adults Test

Navigate tactile sensitivity in adults test, understand ASD touch defensiveness and sensory stressors.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
June 27, 2024
8 min read
min read

Understanding Tactile Sensitivity

In order to better understand tactile defensiveness in adults with autism, the first step is to dive into the concept of tactile sensitivity. Tactile sensitivity, or hypersensitivity to touch, can play a significant role in the lives of people with autism. It involves the increased perception and reaction to sensory signals related to touch, which can contribute to discomfort, distress, or avoidance behaviors.

Hyperesthesia and Its Impact

Hyperesthesia is a symptom that involves extreme sensitivity in the sense of touch, where sensations that should feel light or easy to tolerate become intense or overwhelming. It often occurs alongside neuropathic pain related to nerve dysfunction or damage [1].

This condition may indicate that the nervous system is not functioning properly. It involves the dysregulation of signal intensity sent and relayed by the nervous system, leading to oversensitivity to touch, temperature, pressure, and pain [1]. In the context of tactile defensiveness in autism, hyperesthesia can manifest as the overreaction to tactile stimuli that would typically be innocuous or mildly uncomfortable for others. This can significantly impact the daily lives of those affected, causing distress during routine tasks and leading to avoidance behaviors.

Sensitization and Tactile Sensitivity

Another key aspect that contributes to tactile sensitivity is sensitization. Sensitization is a process where certain signals alter the way the nervous system handles pain signals, leading to hyperesthesia. This sensitization usually involves pain signaling and can intensify pain signals, trigger them more easily, or even cause them to occur without a reason.

In the context of autism, sensitization can exacerbate symptoms of tactile defensiveness. The heightened sensitivity to touch can lead to an increased perception of pain or discomfort, even from mild or moderate touch stimuli. This can further contribute to avoidance behaviors, where individuals may avoid certain textures, types of clothing, or physical contact.

Understanding these factors is crucial when discussing tactile sensitivity in adults with autism. It can shed light on the reasons behind some behaviors and reactions, and guide the approach taken for tactile defensiveness treatment. To learn more about the symptoms associated with tactile defensiveness and potential causes, visit our articles on tactile defensiveness symptoms and what causes tactile defensiveness?.

Age-Related Changes in Touch Sensitivity

As individuals age, there are inevitable changes in the body's sensory systems, including touch sensitivity. It's crucial to understand these changes to effectively approach assessments like a tactile sensitivity in adults test.

Decline in Touch Sensitivity with Age

With the progression of age, touch sensitivity typically declines, making gentle touch feel more pleasant. Skin elasticity is reduced, and there's a decrease in or alteration of skin tactile receptors. This means that older individuals may have a higher threshold for detecting touch, and they may derive more pleasure from gentle tactile stimuli.

Moreover, tactile thresholds in the elderly are significantly increased, possibly due to a decrease in the density and distribution of Pacinian and Meissner corpuscles and Merkel's discs in the skin. This leads to decreased spatial acuity [3].

Age Group Tactile Threshold
Young adults Low
Middle-aged adults Medium
Older adults High

Effects of Aging on Tactile Perception

The effects of aging on the peripheral and central nervous systems include demyelination, which affects the timing of neural signals, as well as reduced numbers of peripheral nerve fibers. This can impact the overall perception of touch in the elderly.

Detection thresholds for several vibration intensities are higher in older subjects, with vibration threshold being the most rapidly affected by age and maximal after the age of 65 years [3]. This means that as one ages, the ability to perceive different levels of vibration decreases, potentially affecting balance and coordination.

Understanding these age-related changes in touch sensitivity is crucial for healthcare providers, especially when evaluating older adults for conditions like tactile defensiveness. It's also essential for individuals and their loved ones as they navigate the sensory changes that come with aging.

Tactile Sensitivity Assessment

Assessing tactile sensitivity is crucial in understanding and managing conditions such as tactile defensiveness, especially in individuals with autism. This process involves determining tactile thresholds and employing techniques to measure tactile sensitivity.

Tactile Thresholds in the Elderly

In the context of aging, touch sensitivity tends to decline, and gentle touch generally becomes more pleasant. Factors such as reduced skin elasticity and alterations to skin tactile receptors contribute to this change [2]. Tactile thresholds in the elderly are significantly increased, potentially due to a decrease in the density and distribution of Pacinian and Meissner corpuscles and Merkel's discs in the skin, leading to decreased spatial acuity.

Moreover, detection thresholds for various vibration intensities are higher in older subjects, with the vibration threshold being most rapidly affected by age and reaching a maximum after the age of 65 years. Also, the spatial acuity of skin at the fingertip noticeably deteriorates with age, as assessed by two-point threshold measurement, and other tests of skin spatial acuity also deteriorate with age.

Additionally, elderly subjects exhibit a raised threshold for the perception of electrical stimuli compared with younger subjects, possibly due to the progressive loss of cutaneous afferent axons and changes to cutaneous receptors [3].

Techniques for Measuring Tactile Sensitivity

There are several techniques for measuring tactile sensitivity, including the use of mechanical, thermal, and electrical stimuli. These techniques measure various aspects of tactile sensitivity, such as detection thresholds for vibration and electrical stimuli, and spatial acuity of the skin.

To measure tactile sensitivity effectively, it's crucial to understand the individual's baseline sensitivity and any factors that may affect it, such as age. Additionally, it's important to consider the individual's comfort and ensure that the test is conducted in a controlled and consistent manner.

When assessing tactile sensitivity in adults, particularly in those with autism, it's critical to consider the potential impact of tactile defensiveness on the individual's daily life. Understanding this can inform the approach to tactile defensiveness treatment and help improve the individual's quality of life.

In conclusion, tactile sensitivity assessment is a vital tool in understanding and managing tactile defensiveness, particularly in adults with autism. By accurately measuring tactile thresholds and employing effective techniques, it's possible to gain a comprehensive understanding of an individual's tactile sensitivity and develop appropriate interventions.

Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS)

Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) is a significant aspect of the sensory experience, particularly in individuals with autism. It plays a pivotal role in how one perceives and interacts with their environment.

Overview of Sensory Processing Sensitivity

Sensory processing sensitivity is a common human neurobiological trait found significantly higher in 10-20% of the population. This trait is characterized by heightened sensitivity to subtle stimuli and a tendency to become easily over-aroused by external stimuli. Individuals with this trait process information more deeply and react strongly to sensory stressors such as bright lights, loud noise, and strong smells [4].

To assess sensory processing sensitivity, a tool known as the Sensory Processing Sensitivity Questionnaire (SPSQ) has been developed. This questionnaire demonstrated good psychometric characteristics, including high temporal stability and excellent internal consistency. The tool covers the main aspects of SPS using a minimal amount of words, making it suitable for rapid assessment in various settings [4]. For more information on sensory sensitivity in autism, visit our article on tactile defensiveness in autism.

Impact of Sensory Stressors

The impact of sensory stressors on individuals with sensory processing sensitivity can be profound. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals with higher sensitivity reported increased feelings of anxiety and more deterioration in relationships. This suggests that highly sensitive individuals may be more vulnerable to maladaptive mental health outcomes during periods of increased global stressors [4].

Particularly, women, students, and religious respondents reported higher total SPSQ scores, indicating higher levels of sensory processing sensitivity. This implies that these groups may be more susceptible to sensory stressors and may require additional support or interventions to manage their sensitivity [4].

Understanding and managing sensory processing sensitivity is crucial for individuals with this trait, especially for those with autism. For more information on the symptoms and treatment of tactile defensiveness, visit our articles on tactile defensiveness symptoms and tactile defensiveness treatment.

Tactile Sensitivity in Autism

Within the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community, tactile sensitivity has often been observed and can lead to significant impacts on day-to-day life.

Tactile Dysfunction in ASD

Tactile dysfunction in individuals with ASD has been associated with emotional and social distress early in life, impacting family activities and environmental learning opportunities. Despite the clear links, the relationship between core features of ASD and abnormalities in tactile processing remains unclear, with limited understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms [5].

Research suggests that an imbalance in the central nervous system, particularly involving the neurotransmitter GABA, may contribute to tactile abnormalities in ASD. Studies have shown reduced GABA levels in the sensorimotor cortex of children with ASD, correlating with higher detection thresholds [5]. To understand more about the causes of tactile defensiveness, visit our article on what causes tactile defensiveness?

Sensory Processing Abnormalities

Studies have shown that adults with ASD exhibit abnormal sensory processing, displaying greater over-responsiveness to sensory stimuli, which is positively correlated with symptoms of autism. Psychophysical studies have revealed that children with ASD have higher static sinusoidal detection thresholds but normal dynamic thresholds, indicating impaired filtering of stimulus information via inhibitory mechanisms. These differences may contribute to the repetitive behaviors seen in ASD.

Sensory reactivity is a diagnostic criterion for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and has been associated with poorer functional outcomes, behavioral difficulties, and autism severity across the lifespan. There are various assessment approaches used to measure sensory processing, including Self- and Proxy-Report Questionnaires, Psychophysical Assessment, Direct Behavioral Observation, Qualitative Interview Techniques, and Neuroimaging/EEG. The Adolescent and Adult Sensory Profile (AASP) is the most widely used assessment measure [6].

Understanding these sensory processing abnormalities is crucial in creating effective treatment plans. You can learn more about the potential treatments for tactile defensiveness in our article on tactile defensiveness treatment.

Assessing Sensory Processing in ASD

Assessing sensory processing in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is integral to understanding and addressing their unique sensory needs. This assessment can be conducted using various approaches, each providing valuable insights into the individual's sensory experiences and reactions.

Assessment Approaches for Sensory Processing

One of the most common approaches to assessing sensory processing in adults and adolescents with ASD is through self- and proxy-report measures. This method was used in 78.7% of the studies, according to NCBI. The Adolescent and Adult Sensory Profile (AASP) is one of the most widely used assessment measures, offering a comprehensive understanding of the individual's sensory processing abilities.

Psychophysical studies are another essential aspect of sensory processing assessment. These studies focus on sensory processing, detection, discrimination, adaptation, accuracy, reaction time, and judgment of intensity and pleasantness of stimuli. They test sensations in various sensory systems, including somatosensory, auditory, olfactory, taste, and vestibular systems.

Observation is also used to assess sensory processing in ASD. This involves naturalistically observing daily routines/participation in individuals' natural environment or in a controlled setting, such as during a functional behavioral assessment (FBA).

Finally, qualitative interviews are used to elicit first-person accounts of sensory experiences/preferences from individuals with ASD. This approach can provide valuable insights into how sensory processing might impact function or participation.

Role of Sensory Reactivity in ASD

Sensory reactivity plays a significant role in ASD. It is a diagnostic criterion for ASD and has been associated with poorer functional outcomes, behavioral difficulties, and autism severity across the lifespan.

Understanding an individual's sensory reactivity can help in developing targeted interventions and strategies to manage tactile defensiveness, a common sensory processing concern in individuals with ASD. For more detailed information on tactile defensiveness, its symptoms, causes, and potential treatments, you can explore our articles on tactile defensiveness in autism, tactile defensiveness symptoms, what causes tactile defensiveness?, and tactile defensiveness treatment.

In conclusion, assessing sensory processing in ASD is a multifaceted process that involves multiple approaches. Understanding an individual's sensory reactivity and how it impacts their daily life is key to developing effective strategies to support their unique sensory needs.








steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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