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  • Writer's pictureAnnmarie DeMarco

Sensory systems!

Our tactile system is our sense of touch. We receive tactile input through the skin; tactile input could be temperature, vibration, light or deep touch, pain, and/or feeling different textures.

One of the many functions of our tactile system is protection. If you touch a hot stove, and your tactile system is working optimally, you will pull your hand away immediately.

We are constantly taking in & adapting to tactile input; is there a tag on your shirt that is bothering you right now? Are you holding on to a hot cup of coffee for the warmth? Do you prefer one blanket over another when you are relaxing at night because you like the texture of it? Or are you like me and touch a piece of clothing in the store & decide to purchase it based on how soft it is? :)

As adults, we are more aware of our tactile preferences (even if we don't realize it.)

Our kiddos on the other hand, sometimes need some guidance to understand their tactile system. I work with some kiddos who will actually sit inside a sensory bin that I've made. And guess what, I let them. They are communicating to me, through their behavior, that they enjoy how it feels. Those are usually my sensory seekers. They love messy play, enjoy deep hugs/squeezes, look forward to playing with fidget toys, and usually don't have many issues with dressing and/or feeding (of course there's always an exception.)

Then there are sensory avoiders. These kiddos cannot tolerate light touch, especially if they don't see you coming and the touch is unpredictable. They want nothing to do with paint, shaving cream, play doh, etc. They may even avoid looking at it altogether. They have difficulty with tasks like getting dressed, and even more difficulty when the seasons change and they have to start wearing long pants, hats, gloves, heavy coats, etc. There is a whole bunch of tactile input during meals & feeding, so these kiddos usually struggle during those daily activities as well.

As I mentioned before with the hot stove example, one of the most important functions of our tactile system is registering pain. Some of our kiddos actually do not register pain. This should be addressed right away during therapy as it is a MAJOR safety concern.

Sensory bins are a great place to start for tactile input; use shredded paper or pom poms to create a fun sensory bin. Deep touch is calming; massage, deep squeezes, and hugs. Therapeutic brushing is my go to for both my sensory seekers and avoiders. There is a very specific protocol for therapeutic brushing, so please be sure to contact an occupational therapist in your area if you have concerns!

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