The tactile system is our sense of touch. It gives us information about things that touch our bodies as well as information regarding pressure, texture, vibration, size, shape, pain and temperature (Tara Delany, 2008). The tactile system contributes to the development of fine motor skills, body awareness and motor planning (E. Yack, P Aquilla, & S, Sutton, 2002).

In Sensory Integration, we talk about tactile modulation/reactivity, as well as tactile perception.

Tactile modulation/reactivity refers to one’s ability to cope with the tactile input in one’s environment, for example: different textures, temperatures, people in your space, physical touch etc. You can either have a typical threshold to tactile input, be over-reactive or under-reactive. Here are some examples of difficulty with tactile modulation:

  • Dislikes being barefoot.
  • Sensitive to food textures.
  • Dislikes being on grass or on the sea sand.
  • Dislikes messy play or become overstimulated quickly when exposed to messy play.
  • Dislikes being wet or getting dirty.
  • Dislikes standing close to friends.
  • Dislikes being touched by people other than primary caregivers.
  • Often toe walks (to limit sensory input through their feet)
  • Seems irritated by tags on clothing, and often avoids wearing new clothes.
  • Dislike daily activities such as brushing teeth, washing hair, applying cream etc.

It is important to expose your child to different textures so that they can learn appropriate regulation strategies to cope with tactile input in their environment. Make use of different textures during play such as sand, powder, maize, rice, jelly, shaving cream, cooked spaghetti, instant pudding, slime and play dough. It is however important to slowly grade the exposure to tactile input by first starting with dry mediums and moving towards wet mediums. It is also important to look out for signs of overstimulation such as excessive drooling, excessive blinking, toe curling, finger hyperextension etc. If these signs of overstimulation are evident, remove the stimulus for a short period to allow your child to regulate, or provide an alternative tool to play with to allow participation (such as using a spoon, a toy or a tong).

Tactile perception refers to the ability to understand and interpret what is being felt. For example: if you put your hand in your bag, you can feel whether you are touching a pen, a coin, your deodorant or a sweet. Tactile perception is also very important for growth, fine-motor development as well as for our survival (knowing when something you feel is dangerous, for example feeling a spider running over your arm) (E. Yack, P Aquilla, & S, Sutton, 2002).

Tactile perception is important to learn to tie shoelaces, eat with utensils, unlock a door, write, open a packet of sweets, button a shirt, open a tap, tie your hair etc. Our tactile perception underlies the development of our fine motor skills and together with the proprioceptive perception, it plays a vital role in the development of one’s motor planning and body awareness. Here are a few examples of behaviours associated with tactile perception difficulties: 

  • Difficulties with independence in selfcare (dressing self, brushing teeth, tying their hair etc.)
  • Often places objects in their mouths to explore them as they have difficulty exploring the objects through touch
  • Difficulty with fine motor tasks.
  • Difficulty eating with utensils and is often a messy eater.
  • Difficulty manipulating small objects in their hands such as Lego blocks, marbles, puzzle pieces etc.

Due to the impact of tactile perception on a child’s daily living and development, it is crucial to stimulate tactile perception during play and common activities at home. Allow your child to practice independence with tasks at home such as buttoning their shirts, opening their own packet of chips, helping to roll up socks whilst doing laundry, helping with preparation of food, eating by themselves, brushing their own hair etc. For fun, close their eyes during bath time and allow them to guess the toy you put in their hand, throw random objects in a bag and ask them to find you a specific object, identify different textures (such as sandpaper, carton, tin foil etc,).

An occupational therapist can assist your child in learning appropriate regulation strategies to cope with tactile input. They are also trained in treating tactile perception difficulties to allow for the optimal development of fine motor skills, body awareness and motor planning.

If you have any questions regarding this system, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

Written by Tanya Kriel, Bright Eyes Therapy. 

For more information you are welcome to contact us on 0836161662 or email us at

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