What is Tactile Processing?

May 2, 2024 | 0 comments

Tactile processing is a part of Sensory Processing that refers to the way the brain receives, interprets, and responds to information from the sense of touch. The sense of touch, also known as the tactile sense, is essential for perceiving and interacting with the physical world. 

Tactile processing involves several key aspects:

  1. Tactile Sensation: This is the initial detection of physical stimuli through the skin and other receptors throughout the body. These receptors detect sensations like pressure, temperature, vibration, and texture.
  2. Tactile Perception: This involves identifying the location, intensity, and qualities of the tactile stimuli. For example, perceiving whether something is rough vs smooth, hard vs soft (without looking) is part of tactile perception.
  3. Discrimination and Integration: The brain can discriminate or distinguish between different tactile sensations and integrate them with other sensory information to create a whole picture of the environment. For instance, it can integrate tactile information with visual and proprioceptive (body position) information to allow us to move around in our environment e.g. if I’m climbing a ladder on a slide my eyes will look up to the top but my hands and feet have to use tactile input to FEEL for where the ladder is and my brain has to use where my body is in space to know how far to keep climbing. 
  4. Tactile Processing in Development and Learning: Tactile processing plays a crucial role in early childhood development. Infants explore the world through touch, and tactile experiences help with the development of fine motor skills, spatial awareness, and object recognition. Tactile processing also contributes to learning, as it enables individuals to grasp and manipulate objects, and perform various tasks that involve touch like dressing, eating, toileting. 
  5. Touch and emotion: Touch plays a role in the formation of attachment and the expression of emotion. From the moment of birth, the gentle touch of a caregiver’s hands provides a sense of security and comfort, fostering the foundation of a secure attachment between infant and caregiver. As infants grow, physical touch remains a vital medium for emotional communication, enabling the expression of love, reassurance, and empathy. A simple hug can convey a myriad of emotions, from joy and affection to solace during times of distress making it a powerful and essential element in the language of human connection and emotional well-being.

Tactile Sensory Processing Disorder

Tactile Sensory Processing Disorder: Some individuals may have difficulties with tactile processing, which can result in a condition known as Tactile Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). People with SPD may have heightened or diminished sensitivity to touch, leading to discomfort or sensory seeking behaviors. Occupational therapy and sensory integration techniques are often used to help individuals with SPD improve their tactile processing skills.

Tactile Sensation

Tactile sensation involves the release of several neurotransmitters in the brain, including but not limited to:

  1. Serotonin: Serotonin plays a role in regulating mood, emotion, and sensory perception. It can influence how we perceive and process tactile sensations.
  2. Dopamine: Dopamine plays a role in reward and pleasure pathways in the brain and can affect our perception of touch and sensory experiences.
  3. Glutamate: Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter and plays a crucial role in various sensory processes, including tactile sensation.
  4. Endorphins: Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators and are released in response to various sensory experiences, including touch, which can influence our perception of pain and pleasure.
  5. Oxytocin: Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” or “bonding hormone.” It is released during positive social interactions and can enhance the positive feelings associated with tactile sensations, such as hugs or physical affection.
  6. GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid): GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It helps regulate neuronal excitability and can influence the perception of touch by modulating and regulating sensory processing.

Importance of Tactile Sensory Experiences for Children

Providing children with opportunities for tactile sensory experiences is important for their sensory development and overall well-being. Tactile sensations can help children learn about their environment, improve fine motor skills, and regulate their sensory systems. Here are some of the best ways to incorporate tactile sensory activities for children:

  1. **Sensory Bins:** Create sensory bins or tables filled with materials like rice, sand, water beads, dried beans, or pasta. Children can explore these textures, scoop, pour, and manipulate objects within them. Add toys or hidden objects for added interest.
  2. **Playdough and Clay:** Playdough and modeling clay are excellent tactile materials. Children can squeeze, mold, and shape them to enhance fine motor skills and creativity. You can also add textured objects like buttons or pasta for extra sensory input.
  3. **Finger Painting:** Finger painting with non-toxic paints allows children to explore different colors and textures. It’s a messy but enjoyable tactile activity that encourages creativity.
  4. **Texture Boards:** Create texture boards or cards with various materials glued on them, such as sandpaper, fabric, bubble wrap, and felt. Children can touch and explore the different textures.
  5. **Messy Play:** Activities like mud play, water play, or playing with shaving cream or foam can be enjoyable tactile experiences. Ensure a designated area for messy play and use appropriate materials.
  6. **Nature Exploration:** Spend time outdoors exploring nature. Allow children to touch leaves, bark, rocks, and natural materials. Nature provides a rich source of tactile sensations.
  7. **Sensory Toys:** There are numerous tactile sensory toys available, such as textured balls, squishy toys, fidget spinners, and toys with different textures. These toys can provide tactile input during play.
  8. **Kinetic Sand:** Kinetic sand is a moldable sand that sticks to itself and can be shaped into various forms. It’s a great material for sensory play and fine motor skill development.
  9. **Cooking and Baking:** Involving children in cooking and baking activities allows them to explore various textures, such as flour, dough, and sticky batter. They can also experience different temperatures and smells.
  10. **Sensory Trails:** Create sensory trails or paths in your backyard or indoor play area using materials like grass, pebbles, or wooden planks. Children can walk barefoot or with different types of footwear to experience different sensations.
  11. **Sensory Art:** Encourage children to incorporate tactile elements into their artwork. They can glue on textured materials, use fabric, or create collages with various textures.

When engaging in tactile sensory activities with children, it’s important to consider safety and supervision, especially for younger children who may explore these materials orally. Always choose age-appropriate and non-toxic materials, and monitor the child’s play to ensure their safety and enjoyment. Sensory play can be a fun and educational way for children to learn and explore their world.

Child Occupational Therapists in Parramatta can help with sensory processing disorder (tactile and other senses)

If you’re concerned about your child’s ability to process tactile sensation or their fine motor skills, get in touch with us. We can work with your child and develop a treatment plan to help develop their sense of touch.