Let’s Talk About Touch

The Tactile System: Did you know that the tactile system develops as early as Week 5 in utero? Our tactile system is  important because it provides us with information about light touch, temperature, pain, and pressure and guide how we perceive and interact with our environment. Our skin is the physical barrier between us and the world. Sometimes during early development receptors that carry tactile information such as vibration, touch, and pressure do not adapt & the child experiences a deficit in a sensory system impacting their whole body. Have you ever tried to tie your shoes wearing oven mitts? Imagine how that might feel all over your entire body. Many kids experience this, resulting in significant delays in fine motor skills and coordination. We call this poor Tactile Discrimination. Conversely, sometimes when these receptors aren’t doing their job the brain kicks in with an aggressive response to tactile stimuli to protect the child from harm. Simple light touch from a loved one, texture of clothing, or brushing teeth or hair will result in extreme emotional responses (the brain is screaming DANGER!) We call this Tactile Defensiveness. A child with tactile defensiveness early in development may end up with tactile discrimination issues later as the brain adjusts to everyday touch. If your child used to throw a fit about messy hands but now has no clue there is a chunk of food on his face, it’s because the two issues are closely related. Today’s Tip: for those with poor tactile discrimination: flood them with tactile input combined with a heavy work. Try frog hopping from one area to the next to retrieve toy frogs out of a bin of shaving cream or rice. Be creative! For those friends with tactile defensiveness: please avoid what I refer to as “light creepy touch”. Let them see you coming & make sure you handle them using a bit of appropriate pressure. Never force messy activities on them but slowly incorporate a tiny amount of mess or texture during preferred activities. Use a sticker or a small amount of shaving cream on a favorite toy to help “free” the toy. Try a “car wash” to wash suds or shaving cream off of toy cars. Above all, make it a positive experience!

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