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This is a very short tutorial on touch and the development of the tactile sense in children with visual impairments and deafblindness.  We hope that it will help you understand the importance of touch for these children and develop better skills in tactile interaction.  


For an individual with visual impairment, blindness or deafblindness touch is a critical sense for connecting and understanding the world.  As parents and educators it is important that we understand and develop this crucial sense.  The first step is to become skilled observers of how the child or student uses his whole body to gain tactile information.GigiBabySm

The development of touch and the tactile sense in a child with visual impairments or deafblindness can be impacted in both positive and negative ways.  The gentle touch of a parent can do much to calm and reassure a child who is frightened or overly stimulated.  Touch connects human beings in a way nothing else does. However, when a child is born with a visual impairment or deafblindness he or she is often exposed to aversive tactile sensations.  Sometimes as a result of many hospital stays or experiencing a world where things happen without the advanced warning that typically developing infants and toddlers gain from sight and hearing. Some children also experience delays in being able to integrate or tolerate certain types of touch.  Touch can be painful or distracting. This may result in resistance or aversion to many types of touch or tactile sensations.

TaniaTouchFor most children with visual impairments and deafblindness touch is key to all learning.  If there is residual vision and/or hearing, touch supports these distance senses.  If there is very little or no vision and/or hearing, touch is the primary sense for learning.  Children with visual impairments and deafblindness may naturally developed extraordinary tactile skills.  They are likely to use not only their hands, but tongue, lips, teeth, feet, legs and any other parts of their body as a way to gain tactile information about the world around them.  It is important that we allow them access to this information by not restraining them from this exploration. 

It is also important that we help them to develop confidence to explore tactilely, since this will be key to understanding much about the physical world.  Reaching out into the unknown can be frightening. We can support the child's willingness to use hands and fingers, toes and feet to explore if we can become a trusted companion and share the experience with them.  We need to provide them with a great variety of textures and tactile experiences.

There is so much to know and so much to learn about how all humans use their sense of touch.  We hope this information will give parents and educators information to help them have better tactile interactions with their child or student.  Interactions that will help the child improve his or her sense of touch to support learning. We also hope this information helps both parents and educators become aware of the importance of developing tactile skills and provides resources for use in both home and school settings. 

Activity 1

Read Touch: A Critical Sense for Individuals with Visual Impairments

Think about the toys your child plays with and touches.  What are the tactile characteristics of these things?  What do you think he or she likes or dislikes about how these feels?

Continue to Part 1: Importance of Touch and Tactile Skills

Jump to Part 2: Awareness of Existing Tactile Skills

Jump to Part 3: Interacting with Others Tactilely / Tactile Communication

Jump to Part 4: Articles and Resources on Touch