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