This series on the sensory processing system is intended to help broaden your understanding of how this important system impacts child development. I am writing this as an experienced educator who has observed how sensory processing helps kiddos thrive when it is working well and can present real challenge when not functioning properly. I am sharing the knowledge I’ve acquired throughout my career, however if you believe your child might have a sensory processing challenge you should seek out expert help from a local occupational therapist.
The most well-known element of sensory processing is tactile sensory system. The human body is covered in receptors that receive information about things like warmth, pain, texture, pressure, and vibration. The tactile system is how your brain interprets the information from these receptors and shapes ideas around what experiences feel good and what experiences elicit discomfort. When the tactile system is functioning well it keeps us safe and comfortable while allowing us to do everyday things like take a shower, shape cookie dough, and play in a sandbox. Problems with the tactile system typically stem from a hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to stimuli.
When a child has a hypersensitivity to tactile stimuli the slightest change in texture, temperature, or pressure can create incredible discomfort making everyday occurrences like tolerating clothing and shoes, brushing teeth, or eating certain foods challenging. Kiddos who are hypersensitive might avoid things like fingerpainting, mushy foods, or walking barefoot, yet every child is different.
Hyposenstive tactile reception often makes kiddos sensory seekers. This sometimes looks like kiddos who love really tight clothing, extremely hot or cold baths, messy projects, or touch everything in sight. Again, every kiddo is different and this can look a lot of different ways.
Challenges in the tacile sensory system can make a child avoid sensations or have a a desire for excessive input. Here’s the good news: the sensory system grows and evolves as children age and there is so much that can be done to support good development of the sensory system. For ideas on how to expand “tactile palate” check out these helpful ideas.