Sensory Integration (Part 4): The Touch System

Tactile system


The touch system has the biggest receptor area of all the senses.  We need constant touch to keep us organized and functioning. 

We register touch through receptors in our skin.  We register light touch, deep pressure, skin stretch, vibration, movement, temperature and pain from tactile receptors. 




Types of modulation difficulties:  over-responsive and under-responsiveness.


  • Becomes fearful/anxious/aggressive when touched lightly, unexpectedly or from behind
  • Don’t like it when diaper needs to be changed
  • Doesn’t like to be held/cuddled
  • Avoids/fearful to stand close to others
  • Resists touch from anyone but trusted family or friends
  • Avoids being kissed, rather prefers hugs
  • Avoids rain or the shower
  • Over-reacts to minor cuts, scrapes, bug bites
  • Avoids touching certain textures
  • Avoids wearing certain clothes
  • Avoids using hands for play activities, especially messy play
  • Washes hands often
  • Avoids wearing socks or dislikes it
  • Distressed by clothes scratching her skin
  • Avoids having face washed
  • Avoids brushing teeth
  • Is a picky eater
  • Avoids walking barefoot on grass or sand
  • Walks mostly on toes
  • Avoids having hair brushed/cut
  • Avoids having nails cut

Under responsiveness

  • Craves touch
  • Is not aware when touched/bumped unless it is forceful
  • Not bothered by injuries
  • Doesn’t feel it when nose is running
  • Not aware that  hand/face are dirty
  • Head-banging
  • Pinches self
  • Bites self
  • Mouths objects
  • Hurts children/pets unintentionally when playing
  • Uses a soother e.g. blanket, etc.
  • Seeks out messy play
  • Craves sensory input
  • Enjoys spice, sweet, sour, salty food
Three years old child holding his blanket and sucking his thumb.

If you child exhibits these symptoms and it is influencing his/her daily functioning at school, home and socialization, please contact an occupational therapist.

The book ‘The out of sync child has fun’ by Kranowitz is a lovely book to explain modulation difficulties and gives loads of activities that can be done at home to improve this.  But don’t try to manage this by yourself, contact your local occupational therapist for guidance.

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