Why Motor Skills Matter

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Sensory Processing - The Tactile System

By Yi Chen, PT, DPT

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The tactile system receives information about touch from receptor cells throughout our body, through the skin.  The tactile system provides information about the quality of objects (hard, soft, dull, rough, smooth, etc) and about the quality of touch we are receiving (light touch, pressure, vibration, temperature, pain, etc.)  This information helps develop body awareness and motor planning.

Children experience various types of tactile input during play every day.  The tactile system helps us decide how to respond and react to the tactile information in the environment.  A healthy tactile system can alert us when there is danger or potential harm and enable us to identify the quality of the object we are touching.

When the tactile system is fully functioning, children are able to attend and respond to all the tactile information they encounter in the environment. They won’t be distracted by tactile input they are experiencing and they are able to filter out unimportant tactile information.  Some children experience difficulty with processing the tactile information during their daily life. They may be hypersensitive, causing them to avoid certain tactile experiences or be hesitant to touch objects necessary for task completion. On the other hand, they may be hyposensitive, not feeling as much of the intensity of the input.  A child who is hyposensitive may seek out increased tactile input in order to help the body receive the amount of tactile input it needs to be able to process the information.

Some activities for promoting healthy development of tactile system include:

  • Use play-doh, Gak, Floam

  • Explore sensory bins with hands (rice, beans, sand, pasta, etc.)

  • Play with vibration toys-vibrating stuffed animal, vibrating balls, vibrating pillow

  • Arts and crafts- finger painting, yogurt, whipped cream

  • Pet a dog, cat or other animals

  • Mix cookie dough, cake batter with hands

  • Scrub with washcloth/scrubby during shower

  • Explore various textures when barefoot (wooden floor, carpet floor, grass, sand, etc.)

Tara Liddle