The tactile sensory system is responsible for interpreting touch, not only in the hands but every inch of your skin. The tactile system helps you to understand various sensations including textures, pressure, temperature, and pain. As an infant, our tactile system is responsible for building the first connection we have with others through the skin to skin contact that provides us with comfort and stability. Throughout development, this system plays an important role in teaching us about the world around us and allowing us to feel secure in exploring our environment. When a child’s tactile system is working properly they will feel confident and secure with exploring and learning about the world around them without distress or difficulty. However, not all sensory systems are the same.
Tactile Over Responsivity: This child may overreact to sensation or seem to sense everything. They tend to be hypersensitive to multiple types of sensory input and tend to avoid input when possible.
Tactile Under Responsivity: This child often seems unaware of input because they have a hard time recognizing it. They need A LOT of input in order for the stimulation to register with their system.
Tactile Seekers: This child craves tactile input. They are always touching things or moving. They love the input and extra input helps them to feel more secure.
If a child’s system is not processing properly it can cause difficulties with their ability to attend to a task, tolerate dressing in different clothing, tolerate grooming tasks, and affect their eating habits. One way that we can help children reorganize their system to run more smoothly is through exploration, exposure, and play. Here are some of my favorite messy play activities to encourage tactile exploration:
- Water play
- Sensory bins
- Kinetic Sand
- Shaving cream
- Writing with chalk
- Water beads
- Playing with food
- Helping with food prep such as baking or playing with pizza dough
- Gluing activities
- Paper mache
- Finger painting
- Textures toys
- Tin foil
- Bubble wrap
Amy L. – COTA/L
Occupational Therapist Assistant