What is Touch (Tactile) System?

A Sense of touch relates to Tactile System. We (children and adults) are nourished,calmed and attached to mother or caregivers (bonding) through touch. This is considered as a first language of communication. An infant and mother completely depend on touch until language, cognitive skills are matured and other developmental milestones are not achieved.

So what happens if due to some complications during pregnancy or delivery a child does not have precisely developed touch system? Does it really make much difference in child’s upbringing or infant-mother bonding?

Sensory Experience!

Consider this situation, a newborn child who should respond positively and feel secure on being touched or cuddled by his mother, starts crying or responds negatively, he doesn’t like his mother’s touch. Now this state will put a mother in a baffling situation. After some time she might get frustrated and upset without understanding what’s wrong with the baby, feeling guilty about not being able to care baby appropriately. Mother is not intentionally trying to discomfort her child however for him, mother’s touch is as cactus pricking the skin. Here nor mother has got cactus in her hands neither child hates mum for cuddling, the culprit is baby’s touch (tactile) system through which the whole interaction is interrupted between the two. 

Due to lack of appropriate networking in brain cells, the touch system doesn’t work accurately which causes the child to cry and leads to poor mother-infant relationship (emotionally detached). As a child grows he is being described as rude, picky or whiny. Teachers and parents might label him as a complainer or one who is hard to please or easily upset.

Detachment with Parents!
The bad attitude or behaviour, inattentiveness, anti-social, easily distracted are some of commonest terms used for these kids, however, no one wants to have an understanding about their feelings and struggle from sensory sensitivities. It’s like staying on the different planet where no one understands your language or emotions.

The tactile system is the sensory system which includes nerves under the skin's surface that send information to the brain. This information includes light touch, pain, temperature, and pressure which play an important role in perceiving the environment as well as protective reactions for survival (Hatch-Rasmussen, 2013).

This system is much more strengthened than our visual and vocal senses. Our skin contains different types of sensory cells which provide information about the external world to the brain. For example, feel of gentle or rough touch; a newborn can recognise his or her mother’s touch which makes him feel comfortable and secure. We can easily judge what’s in our pockets, purses or backpacks without looking inside them. This happens due to the fascinating sense of touch discrimination which allows us to use our touch abilities without involving vision.

A lot of daily activities that we do unconsciously depend on upon tactile system which are taken as for granted by us, however, we should be extremely thankful to nature for creating a phenomenal body system

It is the largest system in the human body and development of this system is essential for carrying out day to day self-care activities such as carrying out fine motor tasks, sewing work needle and thread or doing finger painting.

Millions of brain cells work continuously in minimal seconds for the functioning of our simple body movements. For example, drinking hot tea while reading a book is a complex task technically. Here, the tactile system plays the big role, making our brain aware that hands will be touching hot cup (temperature) as well as tongue will get hot tea taste and sensation. If tea is too hot we wait for it to cool down, because our tactile system sends a message to the brain that hot tea can burn hands as well as the mouth.

Considering all activities, from the start of the day, involve touch system vastly such as tooth brushing, taking a bath, wiping ourselves with the towel, wearing different textured clothes, socks, driving the car, eating food, walking in grass or in sand, hugging someone and the list is massive!

So what’s the problem with kids or adults having Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Experience!

Let's discuss a situation, John has got soft tissue injury in his hand, due to which it is completely swollen and pains too much on being touched. Now imagine, John’s is already in pain and his brother comes to see him. He tickles John’s injury and swollen part thinking that John loves to be tickled and would feel good about it. As obvious, John pushes him away and shouts at him in anger. The similar intensity of pain and distress is felt by the child with tactile dysfunction. Tickle is more painful to them then it’s funny. A light touch or unexpected hug makes them distressed and upset.

We all have experienced this, sometimes when we cut our fingernails and don’t get time to file them, how weird feeling is acquired from our nerve endings. Our hands avoid doing many tasks however after a course of period normal sense of touch is acquired. 

Unfortunately, this normal touch sense or feeling does not happen with our SPD or ADHD kids. We think that they are purposefully showing bad behaviour or trying to be manipulative, however, their problem is much bigger than our agitation. They need empathy, trust and support of parents to resist these problems of touch sensitivities.

Different intervention strategies such as Deep Pressure, heavy work activities, Wilbarger's Brushing technique and vibration have been found to be effective in sensory processing disorders.