Sensory Processing: Tactile- The Sense of Feeling Touch

Today, I wanted to provide information to educate and to give simple activities/games to work on tactile processing at home.

Tactile Processing includes:

Tactile Modulation

Tactile Discrimination

Sensory processing challenges can impact different sensory systems.

  • Vision
  • Touch
  • Sound
  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Movement/balance which is called vestibular
  • Muscles/force which is called proprioception
  • Internal processing/how we feel about ourselves which is called interoception

Challenges with tactile processing can be related to:

  • Tactile modulation challenges or 
  • Tactile discrimination challenges

Tactile modulation is how our bodies regulate sensory information coming into the central nervous system. Can we grade or adjust our behavior relative to the degree, nature and intensity of the input we are receiving? When children or adults have sensory modulation disorder (SMD) it is difficult to regulate their responses to sensory input (their responses are not adjusted to the situation), it is difficult to maintain an optimal arousal level to adapt to changes during daily activities and this impacts quality of life. Those with SMD might avoid group activities, have difficulties making friends, become upset by transitions and sensory meltdowns might occur. Those with SMD might have poor self-esteem and might be extra cautious to try new things.

Tactile modulation difficulties might look like:

  • Struggling to wear different textured clothing or to eat foods with different textures
  • Being bothered by dirty/messy hands
  • Seeking out a high intensity of play with textures

Tactile discrimination is how our bodies notice similarities and differences between sensations. We detect the differences between aspects of space, time and level of input. With tactile discrimination we notice characteristics such as:

  • Pain
  • Temperature
  • Textures
  • Edges
  • Vibration


i.e. smooth/rough, hard/soft, light/heavy, sharp/round, warm/cold

Activities/Games to help with improved tactile processing:

Tactile Modulation-

*Slow and small progression. The child should be in control of the sensation and how much.

  • Deep pressure activities
  • Jumping
  • Pushing, Pulling
  • Crashing
  • Textured fabrics or coverings
  • Sensory bins
  • Vibrating toys
  • Using tools to touch textures if hands are not ready (paint brush, pencil, tweezers, tongs, toy figures)
  • Activities with increased chewing and sucking from straw
  • Having a play theme related to textures i.e. give the dog toys or cars a “bath” with shaving cream
  • Play with: playdoh, water beads, sand, moon sand, beans/rice, shaving cream, modeling clay, slime, putty, oobleck, paint, glue, stickers, feathers, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, soap, fake snow, squishy items, items hiding in these mediums

Tactile Discrimination-

  • Describe textures and weight during activities
  • What’s in Ned’s Head? game
  • Fine motor activities in the dark or with hands hidden
  • Find toys in ball pit, sensory bin, sand
  • Texture I spy- i.e. finding items that are round vs. sharp, dull vs. point, bumpy vs. smooth
  • Puzzle pieces, playdoh cutters, shaped blocks in a bag with the goal to pull out 2 matches using touch rather than vision. What is the shape, number, letter, texture that the hand can feel?
  • “Writing” with finger or other object letters or shapes on the back of the hand, arm or back to guess with eyes closed
  • Throwing items (balls, bean bags) of different weights to target

In occupational therapy, we can address sensory processing difficulties including challenges with tactile processing. Tactile processing is one of the sensory systems that will have an impact on a child’s ability to complete daily activities including academic learning as seen below.

Our body naturally seeks certain sensations or behaviors to regulate our body. This is a great resource that lists which types of sensations are altering vs. calming/organizing to our bodies. We can encourage children to try these type of activities to promote being more awake/alert vs. calm/organized.


STAR Institute 

STAR Institute for Sensory Processing was formed in 2016 from two merged organizations SPD Foundation and STAR Center. STAR Institute for SPD provides premier treatment, education, and research for children, adolescents, and adults with SPD. 


University of Southern California

The USC Sensory Integration Continuing Education (CE) Certificate Program provides training in the theory, assessment, and intervention principles of sensory integration as originated by USC Chan faculty member Dr. A. Jean Ayres (1920–1988). Dr. Ayres, who was both an occupational therapist and an educational psychologist, developed a theoretical framework, a set of standardized tests (today known as the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests), and a clinical intervention for identification and remediation of SI problems in children. The material presented in the USC Chan Sensory Integration CE Certificate Program builds on the rich history of sensory integration as originated by Faculty Emeritus A. Jean Ayres at USC.


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