Importance of Tactile Input

Williams & Shellenberger Pyramid of Learning

In my training last summer with Tina Allen, she presented our class with the Williams & Shellenberger Pyramid of Learning, developed by Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger.

What I love about the diagram is it helps give a framework for how the nervous system develops and expands from the early stages of receiving sensory input from the seven senses to eventually leading to academic learning. If you are reading this, you likely have most of the skills presented in the diagram. 😉

I want to draw your attention to the three senses listed at the bottom of the diagram right above the Central Nervous System base.

Tactile – This is fairly straightforward as most of us think of touch. Tactile input can range in a variety of ways, including pressure, temperature, vibration, texture, and pain. Tactile input is transmitted to the nervous system by specialized nerve endings.

Vestibular – This sensory system provides the brain with information about motion, head position, and spatial orientation. The inner ear is a part of this system! This system is important in balance and movement. 

Proprioception – This sensory system provides us with awareness of where our body is in space. There are specialized nerve endings located in our muscles and joints (connective tissue!) that relay this information. Interestingly, research has found that some individuals with a trauma history and/or mental illness also have poor proprioception. 

Massage provides an array of sensory information for the tactile and proprioceptive systems, as well as the vestibular system in lesser amounts. 

We can vary tactile input by changing pressure, location, texture, and vibration, all of which stimulate different nerve endings and send a wide variety of information to the nervous system. 

Some of these nerve endings, like mechanoreceptors, communicate with specific structures in the nervous system. Certain mechanoreceptors send input about pressure that can increase vagal activity, potentially releasing oxytocin and moving the body into a parasympathetic state. This is much of the reason why many people feel relaxed and sleepy after receiving a massage. 

Vibration stimulates other mechanoreceptors that can send excitatory signals to the nervous system. Vibration is a helpful tool when working with scar tissue as well as for stimulating a hypotonic (low tone) muscle.

Stay tuned for more information about the importance of the tactile sense, as well as ways to incorporate it more into your daily routine for yourself and for your child.

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