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The tactile system includes nerves under the skin’s surface that
send information to the brain. This information includes light touch, pain, temperature,
and pressure. These play an important role in perceiving the environment as well as
protective reactions. Both over sensitivity and decreased awareness of tactile input
is possible.

Tactile defensiveness is a condition in which an individual is extremely
sensitive to light touch. Theoretically, when the tactile system is immature and working
improperly, abnormal neural signals are sent to the brain which can interfere with other
brain processes. This, in turn, causes the brain to be overly stimulated and may lead to
excessive brain activity, which can neither be turned off nor organized. This type of over-
stimulation in the brain can make it difficult for an individual to organize one’s behavior
and concentrate and may lead to a negative emotional response to touch sensations.

Possible Signs of Tactile processing deficits:

  • Withdrawing when being touched,
  • Dislikes kisses,
  • Dislikes rough clothes, tags, and/or seams in socks
  • Refusing to eat certain ‘textured’ foods and/or to wear certain types of clothing
  • Complaining about having one’s hair or face washed,
  • Avoiding getting one’s hands dirty (i.e., glue, sand, mud, finger-paint), and
  • Using one’s finger tips rather than whole hands to manipulate objects.
  • Misperception of touch and/or pain (hyper- or hyposensitive) and may lead to self-imposed isolation, general irritability, distractibility
  • Doesn’t realize hands or face are dirty,
  • Touches everything and anything constantly,
  • May be self-abusive, plays rough with peers,
  • Doesn’t seem to feel pain (may even enjoy it!)
  • Persistently walks on toes to avoid sensory input from the bottom of the feet.