Brainwaves Issue 1 Touch

By | December 3, 2011


During the summer of 2009, my family traveled to Greece. Of course, a visit to the Acropolis was a must and off we went on a 35 degree day (which is everyday in the summer in Greece!). Our first stop before climbing the Acropolis was the new museum. The very wide entrance hall was lined with amazing artifacts. Stone carvings that were a a billion years old (not really but very very old!) were hanging on the walls. I came up close to the carving of a face, enthralled with the shiny flecks of stone and granite, and slowly reached up and very lightly touched this ancient piece of artwork on the nose. But the “don’t touch the art” guards were on the look-out and quickly stopped me…oh yes, I thought, but I COULDN’T RESIST THE URGE TO TOUCH IT!

Welcome to …Brainwaves. A newsletter designed to create some “brain waves” within my community of colleagues, friends and clients. Hopefully, the ripples will extend to more and more folks and the richness of the information offered will be enlightening and powerful!


Touch…develops within the first month in the developing baby and, some say, is most important sensation to sustaining life. It is, by far, the largest sensation organ including our skin as well as receptors within our body structures and organs. It seems to be less understood, compared to our senses of vision and hearing. As one researcher pointed out, “…one cannot fail to note that we can close our eyes and prevent visual stimuli from entering consciousness, but …we can never voluntarily shut down our sense of touch.” Scientists have identified up to seven different types of touch receptors that detect light pressure (such as wind), pain, vibration, pressure (skin and internal organs), and temperature. The nerve pathways to the brain are also diverse and are now known to travel to the emotional processing parts of the brain. Touch is critical for emotional well being…it triggers the release of oxytocin…the hormone of love. Oxytocin is known for its’ ability to lower blood pressure, anxiety and reduce feelings of pain. It promotes positive social behavior, healing, growth, and, perhaps “mind reading”. Recent research has linked low levels of oxytocin to autism and researchers have made some interesting discoveries (see link below).

So Now What?
As an occupational therapist, I frequently speak to parents, teachers and educational assistants about touch. We like to use touch to physically connect with children. A touch on the arm can be to gain attention or to offer support. Unfortunately for some children, touch has been used as a weapon. What we have seen for children with emotional, learning or brain differences, is that firm (not forceful) touch is generally calming. Light, brushing touch seems to alert the brain and can trigger a “fight or flight” response. If your child is particularly touch sensitive, here are some suggestions;

  • give them a warning and approach from the front to provide a sense of predictability that helps their brain get ready for the touch experience.
  • allow them to wipe their own face and hands after meals.
  • use lots of conditioner so hair brushing is easier and place one of your hands firmly on the scalp while brushing.
  • when towel drying them after a bathe, use firm rubbing actions or firm “dabbing”, including the head.
  • try a massage with lotion after a bathe or before bed.  It doesn’t have to be big…even massaging hands and arms feels good!
  • some children sleep best when all wrapped up in their blanket.


Sensory Processing: Helping You Understand Your Child
Two evening sessions will provide information and practical strategies to help parents of children with sensory processing differences. Time will be spent going through each sensory system, assisting parents to create a sensory diet particular for their child, discussing uncertainty and realistic expectations within new environments.
Next two sessions will be in February, 2012.  Call for more information.

Read more: Touch, Information about Touch