Every day, all of use stereognosis without even realizing it.
Stereognosis is when you can recognize an object just by feeling it, without looking at it.
If there were an award for the “most undervalued, but extremely important” skill, it may be stereognosis. It just doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
And, when it goes wrong, it can be hard to figure out what’s happening. There’s something wrong with my stereo-what?!
In this post, we’re breaking down the basics of stereognosis and why it may just be the sensory answer to the problem you’ve been trying to solve.
Stereognosis is defined as the ability to recognize an object without looking at it and simply by feeling it. Whenever we plunge a hand into an overflowing purse to find a set of car keys,w e’re using stereognosis.
Stereognosis is one of those skills that we rarely think about, but we actually use all of the time. While there’s no doubt that vision is important, our sense of touch is really well refined and does a great job of giving us a lot of the information we need to understand the world. This is why people who are blind can learn to navigate the world fairly well with their hands.
Why is Stereognosis a Sensory Processing Skill?
Our world is full of sensory information. All day, we hear sounds, see sights, smell smells, and touch objects. Stereognosis cares about this last one, touching objects.
Whenever we touch an object, our skin sends a signal to the brain with information about what we felt and what we should do about it. If we touch something hot, our brain sends out an alarm telling us to back away. If we touch a cellphone, our brain tells us to keep scrolling through Instagram. Kidding, but not really.
Our sense of touch is how we interact with the physical world. While we can see the difference between a Ritz cracker and a Goldfish cracker, without looking, we can tell the difference simply by feeling the difference between the round shape and the fish shape. This is stereognosis.
But, where does the “sensory” factor come in again?
Remember that stereognosis is defined as the ability to know what a physical object is solely by touch, without looking. This means that stereognosis, without help from any of the other senses, takes in sensory information through the skin, sends this information to the brain, and spits out the right answer. The only reason we can tell the difference between the Ritz cracker and the Goldfish cracker is because of our sense of touch.
What Causes Issues with Stereognosis?
To further emphasize this as a sensory issue, the cause of the problem originates in the area of the brain that’s responsible for sensory processing.
Astereognosis is extremely common with cerebral palsy, a condition that impacts the brain. In fact, one study found that 92% of their participants with cerebral palsy showed issues with stereognosis.
Signs of Stereognosis Issues
Humans are amazing at adapting to their circumstances. This is especially true for kiddos who have never known life another way. For example, it’s a much different experience to lose your hearing at an older age and have to relearn how to navigate the world than it is to be born without hearing and learn to navigate the world in this way to begin with.
For this reason, kiddos that struggle with stereognosis may not say anything. They don’t know anything different! These kiddos may have learned to optimize their vision and hearing to accommodate.
But, you may be seeing things that seem a bit “off.” Maybe your kiddo does tasks differently than peers, or struggles in areas that give you red flags. And, here’s the time for my disclaimer. If you have any concerns about your child, connect with your pediatrician or occupational therapist. This article is meant solely for informational purposes and shouldn’t be applied to your own child’s circumstances without professional supervision.
Ok, now that’s out of the way, here are some signs that your child may be struggling with stereognosis.
- cannot complete a task without looking at what their hands are doing
- struggle to recognize what an object is solely by feeling it
- shy away from tactile activities, but are not tactile defensive
- answer questions about tactile sensations incorrectly
- talks more about how something tastes, looks, or smells than how it feels
So, you notice red flags and chat with your pediatrician or occupational therapist. What next? Luckily, there is a test designed specifically for this very situation.
As the name implies, a stereognosis test is designed to measure deficits in stereognosis.
Interesting fact: Stereognosis is a skill that humans typically perform so naturally that even one mistake during a stereognosis test indicates that there is an issue with stereognosis going on.
A stereognosis test isn’t complicated, but this doesn’t mean you should give it to your kiddo on your own. This test should only be done by a professional.
A stereognosis test simply involves asking someone to close their eyes and identity objects just through touch. To begin with, it’s best to use objects that are very different, like a coin and a pen.
Objects can become more similar as the rounds progress. If someone can’t tell the difference between a pen and a coin, the issue is more severe than if someone can’t tell the difference between a nickel and a quarter.
Now that we’ve gone on and on about what stereognosis is and why it happens, let’s dive into some ways to improve it.
Practice, practice, practice is key here. A lot of kiddos who struggle with stereognosis have learned how to get through life without it. This means that they rarely practice their stereognosis skills. And, when they do, it’s hard. As with anything challenging, the best way to get kids involved is to make it fun.
Here are a round up of some of my favorite toys and activities that make stereognosis fun, which means that kiddos will be more willing to participate. And, some of these toys will exercise their stereognosis skills without them even realizing it.
Give your kids an excuse to use their hands. Crafts are a great way to use fine motor skills and give the body a ton of tactile input. Have your ever seen those super skilled knitters who can knit at lightning speed all while maintaining eye contact with you during a deep conversation? Now, I’m not saying that your child needs to turn into an expert knitter, but there is a lot of sensory value in gaining skills in crafts.
Subscriptions are fantastic. No need to waste time in the craft store trying to distract your kid from pulling everything off the shelves. These subscriptions are not only time savers, but also make sure you have everything you need for an awesome end result.
We Craft Box
We Craft Box is a monthly subscription designed by a working mom that wanted to spend more creative time with her kids. Each month, you get an easy-to-use and beautiful box that has all of the supplies you need to complete that month’s craft.
The Preschool Box
The Preschool Box combines crafts with learning! In this monthly box, you get hands on activities that promote reading, writing, sound and color recognition, and more. These boxes are so cute and they’ve really nailed the challenge of making learning fun.
The Orange Art Box
The Orange Art box is a great choice for kids between the ages of 5-10. Run by a mom, these boxes don’t lack in creativity. I may not be in the 5-10 age range, but even I would be excited to open this up every month.
Maybe you don’t want to jump into a monthly craft subscription, but still want a ready-to-go, fully formed craft experience. Here are some great craft kits that will send you all of the pieces and info you need to have a beautiful craft at the end of the day.
Occupational Therapy Subscriptions
Did you know that there are subscription boxes designed specifically by occupational therapists?! Yes, it’s true! While these aren’t focused solely on stereognosis, they include toys and activities that have been carefully picked by OTs to help kiddos with autism, sensory challenges, and other issues. These boxes will help kiddos develop a number of different skills, stereognosis related and otherwise.
The Sensory TheraPlay Box
The Sensory TheraPlay Box is a subscription box solely dedicated to all things sensory! Yes, it’s true! The Sensory TheraPlay box was designed by an occupational therapist for kiddos with autism and sensory issues. To say that I love this is an understatement.
The HOOT for Kids Box
Wait, wait. There are 2 subscription boxes designed by occupational therapists?! Yes! The HOOT for Kids box is absolutely adorable. I mean, how can you not fall in love with that owl? Like the TheraPlay box, the Hoot for Kids box was designed by occupational therapists to best cater to a child’s age and developmental stage.
Get Some Great Fine Motor Toys
Like crafts, our goal with toys is to keep the hands of our kiddos moving. The more tactile input we can send the brain, the better it will become at stereognosis. Here are some great fine motor toys that will give kids a lot of exposure to differing types of shapes and textures.
Legos and Blocks
Legos and blocks are really fantastic choices for stereognosis work. Manipulating all of the small pieces will help them understand how and why they’re different. Overtime, they’ll become familiar with the shapes of the Legos and become skilled at differentiating them without looking.
Sensory bins are great for the entire tactile system. The textures, shapes, and consistencies all give the tactile system the input it needs. For stereognosis specifically, sensory bins are great because there are a lot of different types of objects for kids to explore. Also, these objects often need to be dug up out of sand or slime, making it more likely that they’ll experience the object through their fingers before seeing it.
One of the best ways to help your kiddo develop their stereognosis skills is to expose them to a wide variety of activities and experiences. Plan a treasure hunt, make a game out of household chores, make an exception and let your child play with their food. Think about any way to stay active and get those hands moving.
Stereognosis is a skill that can be improved. Keep working and celebrate the small wins.
Diana is a registered occupational therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders and autism.