The Tactile System

Take a look at the human body and notice how much of it is covered by skin. The sense of touch plays a significant role in our understanding of ourselves and how we respond to the world around us. Dysfunction in the tactile system can lead to problems with writing, grooming, eating and social interaction.

Clues that may indicate a weakness with tactility include:

  • extreme ticklishness
  • aversion to being sticky, dirty, sandy, messy, etc.
  • unaware of being sticky, dirty, sandy, messy, etc.
  • dislike of being physically guided (being taken by the hand or given gentle guidance with a hand on the back)
  • tendency to touch other people or objects excessively
  • unusual pencil grasp (e.g. with the tip of the thumb off the writing implement)
  • dislike of (or reaction to) synthetic fibers
  • avoidance of touch (by hands or mouth) of anything “mushy” or “slimy” or having mixed textures
  • intolerance of haircuts, hair brushing, face washing, fingernail cutting
  • unusual reactions to the application of lotion
  • intolerance of socks and seams, loose threads, loose elastic
  • need to remove tags from clothing
  • inability to sleep with a top sheet on the bed or with a top sheet that is not tucked in, military style
  • sensitivity to elastic waist pants, belts or starched or stiff clothing
The tactile System - Handle Neurodevelopmental Approach

Not all tactile sensitivities are as obvious as a sunburn but it is a good metaphor to keep in mind if you know someone who doesn’t like to get haircuts because of the sharp hairs landing on the neck or who doesn’t like the feeling of the finger or thumb tips making contact with the pencil.

The tactile System - Handle Neurodevelopmental Approach

Like appreciating a map or an agenda when you are in a new or stressful environment, a sensitive tactile system is more able to accept and integrate the information it receives from touch if it arrives in a sequential, rhythmic and repetitive manner.

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