ACTIVITIES TO DEVELOP THE SOMATO-SENSORY SYSTEM
Sensory discrimination refers to the process of discerning, organising and assigning meaning to qualities of specific sensory stimuli and experiences. Sensory input and discrimination are obtained through a child’s visual-, auditory-, touch-, movement- (vestibular), and muscle and joint receptors (proprioception). The discrimination and integration are necessary in order to develop and attain postural control and balance, gross- and fine motor coordination, eye-hand coordination, motor planning and visual perceptual skills.
Adequate processing of information from the somato-sensory system (tactile and proprioceptive systems) is vital for the manipulation of writing tools and the development of fine motor skills. Inadequate processing, on the other hand, will result in a poor body schema and insufficient motor planning. These two systems are closely linked thus activities developing these systems will be discussed as a unit.
Tactile discrimination is the ability to identify and localize information from the skin about the texture, shape and size of objects in the environment. Children who have difficulty with tactile discrimination may struggle to complete tasks when their vision is blocked and may seem out of touch with their hands. As a result they are unable to feel where their hands are. For example they may struggle to find a special toy inside a backpack, or struggle to put on gloves or feel out of touch with their hands when inside a hand puppet. Often they may have trouble holding and using tools such as pencils, a pair of scissors or cutlery and tend to push too hard or softly on a pencil or struggle to find objects hidden in a texture box for example a box full of beans or dry rice.
Proprioceptive discrimination is the ability to identify the position, force, direction, and movement of our own body parts in space. This information is received from the muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons of the body. Children who have insufficient proprioceptive discrimination may be accident-prone or clumsy as a result of their poor sense of body awareness, especially when vision is blocked. They may invade other’s personal space/body space and often lean, bump or crash against objects and people. In addition they may be heavy in their movements, e.g. slap feet when walking or land heavily when jumping.
Guidelines when engaging in this kind of play:
Play these games using vision as well as when vision is blocked/eliminated.
Move from pure tactile exploration and stimulation to tactile discrimination where the child is expected to identify/name the qualities of the objects without vision. For example, ask the child to explain the shape, size, contours, weight of the objects they are feeling (without vision).
As the child gains more skill, the activities can be graded from only a few objects to many objects, larger to smaller size objects and the type of texture that the objects are hidden in can be graded as well, for example hiding soft toys inside a ball pond (which may be easier) to hiding puzzle pieces in a box full of rice or dry beans.