The Tactile System

The Tactile System: The Touch Sense

The tactile system is also known as the "touch sense." Nerves under the skin send information to the brain regarding touch, temperature, and pain. Proper processing of these stimuli are key to staying safe and help us carry out typical daily activities.

Tactile Processing Dysfunction

Examples of tactile processing dysfunction include:

  • Aversion to being touched
  • Walking on toes
  • "Picky" eater
  • Doesn't like dirty, wet, or sticky hands or face
  • Uncomfortable in certain types of clothing

During a sensory integration activity, such as climbing a rope ladder, it is important to evaluate your individual's level of tolerance with tactile input. Tactile dysfunction doesn't need to be "remedied" in every activity, but its role in the ultimate goal should be considered. A well-intended activity can be ineffective if the tactile input is too low or too high and causes a distraction.

two kids playing in a blue rope tunnel

The SensoryRx™ Product Profile

Every product we offer features a SensoryRx Product Profile, with an input rating for the tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive sensory systems. These are the three main senses engaged when doing movement-based activities like swinging, climbing, jumping, and crashing.

We'll go through a few examples of how you can use the tactile input rating to determine which sensory swings and activities can suit your needs.

Swings with Low Tactile Input

Swings with simple textures and even pressure when touched are often rated as providing low tactile input. Use swings with low tactile input if you are trying to minimize distractions and build other skills, especially for individuals who are sensitive to tactile sensations. Or you can incorporate activities that specifically focus on and gradually build those tactile tolerance levels. It's all about your goals!

The SensoryRx Platform Swing is plain and simple when it comes to touch, but it can provide incredible opportunity for movement and socialization. Here's two examples of activities with the platform swing based on the goals for an individual with low tolerance for challenging textures:

SensoryRx Green Platform Sensory SwingA graph explaining this swing's sensory profile

Activity 1: Get Movin'
Push the swing laterally with moderate force while the rider sits, stands (you read that right!), lies on back, or props up on hands and knees. Each position challenges strength and balance differently. To keep from getting stale, add in a social component - give high fives, sing a song, or count repetitions.

Activity 2: Challenge the Touch
Engage with light touch by tracing names or shapes into the swing. Tap specific body parts to the swing one at a time, focusing on sensitive areas like fingers, toes, ears, and nose. For a broader tactile sensation, have the rider swing while holding the rope, or prop up on hands and knees.

Swings with High Sensory Input

Swings with complex textures such as rope webbing are often rated as providing high tactile input. Use swings with high tactile input for individuals that can be considered "sensory seekers," or those able to at least generally tolerate complex textures. Swings with high tactile input often naturally offer higher proprioception input as well, which can be a great win for sensory integration play.

The HearthSong Climbing Rope Swing is primarily made of rope webbing, making it rated for high tactile input. Here's two examples of activities with the rope swing:

HearthSong Rope Climber SwingA graph explaining the rope swing's sensory profile

Activity 1: Swing Swing
Swing in a lateral or circular motion and engage all three sensory systems. Keep it fresh and try not to do one activity more than 30 seconds with out switching something up. Change positions, change directions, go faster, go slower. One of our favorites is to slowly spin the swing and say "now you see you don't!"

Activity 2: Chillax
Set the swing up to move only laterally and at a height that the rider could lie on their back, hang their legs over the edge, and feet touching the floor. That way they can swing themselves, be in control, and stay engaged in the activity. It's sort of like being on a porch swing!

Final Notes

No matter our sensory differences, we're allowed to have preferences, off days, and a change of heart. Progress is not fast, and it's certainly not linear. We're in this journey together to Find Focus through Movement, and if you have more questions, please contact us. We're here to help!

Author Credit

Resources: Casey Dravis, OTD, OTR/L
Writer: Katie Johnson, SRx Brand Manager and Special Needs Parent
Reviewer: Kevin Anderson, PhD, OTR/L, ATP

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