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Tactile System

What is our Tactile System?

This is what gives us the ability to perceive pressure, temperature, traction, and pain. The skin is the body’s largest organ. The tactile sensory receptor in our skin communicates to our pain via the nervous system about pressure, pain, vibrations, temperature, and movement.

The tactile system plays an important role in overall sensory modulation. When a child has a tactile system that is properly developed, they don't become distracted by the constant tactile input they are experiencing in any given moment (the way their shirt feels on their arms, the feeling of the breeze hitting their face) because they are able to filter out which tactile information is important and which isn’t so important. A child with a well-developed tactile sense engages in play easily with his peers and explores toys during parallel and group play. They effortlessly participate in activities of daily living involving touch, bathing, brushing teeth, washing hands, dressing, tolerating clothing, and mealtime routines. They show curiosity by touching and interacting with their environment throughout their day in a controlled manner, not fearful of touching or being touched and also not preoccupied with touching everything around them. (Inspired Treehouse)

Children that have an underdeveloped tactile system are often very sensitive to tactile input. Therefore, they don’t like to get messy, touch new textures, try new types of clothes/food, and get overwhelmed by others touching them.

Then on the other side there are children that are constantly seeking tactile input. They crave all types of touch – such as wet, dry, cold, and/or new textures. They often love deep tactile input – hugs and joint compressions.

The tactile system can be very powerful in helping children with sensory modulation and learning. It is important to provide children with a small amount of organized tactile input throughout the day especially when young. Children are early learners and it helps to provide kinesthetic learning experiences which often leads to long term memory and increased skill building.

Ways to help and build a well-developed tactile system:

  • Massage– body massage with lotions

  • Tactile box– which may include cornmeal, oatmeal, water, sand, diverse types of textured items, etc.

  • Treasure Hunt– hide small objects in Play Doh or to the tactile box to find with fingers

  • Painting- outdoor with water, paint roller in bathtub, soap crayons

  • Shaving Cream– to draw or blow

  • Tactile box to collect small items and different textures to match and sort.

  • Face and body paints, temporary tattoos or stickers

  • Blindfold games- pin the tail on the donkey

  • Daily access to dry sensory play materials (e.g. rice, sand, or beans)

  • Toys hidden in the sensory play materials

  • “High fives” throughout the day

  • Drawing in sand or salt

  • Therapy tubing, therapy putty, balloons or rubber gloves filled with things like corn, flour, rice, etc.

  • Wheelbarrow walking over various surfaces

Common Red Flags for Tactile System Dysfunction:

  1. Difficulty with grooming (hair & teeth brushing)

  2. Difficulty with tags or material of clothing.

  3. Difficulty with being messy or touching wet textures.

  4. Overreacting or under reacting to pain

Items that might be helpful:


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