Tactile Perception

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Tactile perception, also called touch perception, is the brain’s ability to understand (perceive) information coming from the skin, particularly the skin on the hands. 

The hands are being used to register sensory information and then the brain uses this information to guide the hands during an activity.

Kids with poor touch perception often clutch things too tightly, or too loosely, and may appear to be clumsy with their fingers. They may also struggle to hold a pencil with the right amount of force, or be constantly adjusting their grip on the pencil as they "can't feel it properly".

I wrote this page to help parents and teachers understand more about tactile/touch perception.

Tactile Perception in Real Life

When you shove your hand into your bulging handbag and fish around to retrieve your keys, it is your touch perception that will help you to find your keys by feel.

Stop for a moment and think how it feels to wash the dishes with rubber gloves on, or to plant a delicate seedling with garden gloves on.

Wearing thick, clumsy gloves limits your ability to know what your hands are doing!

poor tactile perception is like washing a glass with rubber gloves on

When you are not getting good feedback from your fingers, it is hard to be accurate with them. You are more likely to be clumsy, and end up crushing the delicate plant roots or breaking the fragile crystal glass.

This is what poor touch perception feels like!

There is usually not anything wrong with the nerves in the hands, but the brain is not processing the information from the hands properly, and thus does not respond appropriately to the task at hand.

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Tactile, Touch, Haptic Perception -
what do the terms mean?

The terms are often used interchangeably by teachers and therapists.

Technically, touch perception consists of tactile perception which is passive, where the skin simply makes contact with an object, and haptic perception, where the child actively and intentionally explores and manipulates objects with the hands.

Haptic perception uses information from the muscles and joints of the hands (proprioception) to enable us to perceive the shape, size and weight of an object, while texture, temperature and hardness can be perceived from the touch receptors.

In haptic perception, objects are manipulated between the hands, manipulated within the hands, touched with the fingers, banged and explored.

tactile perception helps you identify objects by feel

The type of exploration depends on the object itself, as well as the child's age and abilities.

Having good tactile and haptic perception can help a child use the hands skillfully.

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How Poor Touch Perception Can Affect Kids

Handwriting speed and legibility have been found to be affected by touch perception.

The brain needs to accurately perceive the tactile and proprioceptive information coming from the fingers and use that information to control the pencil and form letters accurately.

poor touch perception can affect handwriting

Children with poor touch perception may be clumsy while holding small or fragile items. They may also hold a pencil really tightly to help them “feel” the pencil better.

For this reason, having accurate tactile/touch perception is an Essential Foundation for the development of good fine motor skills.

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How You Can Help Your Child

Here are a few ideas to encourage development of touch perception using fun activities:

  • Encourage babies and toddlers to play with a variety of different sensory mediums to encourage the hands to explore the different tactile sensations.

  • Hide a few of your child's toys in a container filled with sand, and encourage your child to find the toys by feeling for them. Other ideas for "sensory bins" include using beans or rice to hide the toys, but please watch out for choking with smaller kids.
  • Limit screen time and encourage hands-on play. Whether indoors or outdoors, your child's touch perception will benefit from grasping, moving and playing with real life objects instead of playing on a flat, smooth screen.
easy, free tactile perception activities for kids

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what is tactile perception?

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Related Pages


Ballesteros S., Heller M.A. (2008) Haptic object identification. In: Grunwald M. (eds) Human Haptic Perception: Basics and Applications. Birkhäuser Basel. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-7643-7612-3_16

Cermak, S. ; Stilwell, J. (2006) ‘Perceptual Functions of the Hand’, in Henderson, A. & Pehoski, C.  Hand Function in the Child: Foundations for Remediation. pp. 63-88. Boston: Mosby https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-323-03186-8.X5001-1

Lepora, N. Active Tactile Perception. Scholarpedia, 10(3):32364, 2015 https://doi.org/10.4249/scholarpedia.32364

Yu, T-Y, Hinojosa, J., Howe, T-H., Voelbel, G. Contribution of Tactile and Kinesthetic Perceptions to Handwriting in Taiwanese Children in First and Second Grade. OTJR Occupation Participation Health 32(3):87-94, July 2012  https://doi.org/10.3928/15394492-20111209-02

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