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Sensory impairment (1)
Girl on trampoline

There's no doubt that our advances in understanding of the potential effects of sensory impairments have moved on considerably since the 1990s, with the publication of accounts from
people with autism.

It's well established that brain patterns and functioning, the information the brain receives and the interpretation of sensory messages to the brain can be vastly different for those on the autistic spectrum and equally different from one individual to another (Smith Myles, Tapscott Cook, Miller, Rinner and Robbins, 2000; Bogdashina, 2003; Grandin, 2006).

Sensory Impairment (2)

Our understanding of the effects of sensory confusion are naturally nowhere near as certain for those with PMLD, simply because they cannot tell us directly about their experiences, but it seems reasonable to assume that sensory understanding may be equally awry at least for some, and that we must be extremely cautious about making assumptions that those with PMLD
perceive the world in the same way that
neuro-typically (NT) developing people generally do.

However, it's probably safe to assume there's a greater incidence of sensory impairment among people with profound learning disabilities (Bunning, 1998) and the degree of sensory impairment is also likely to be more severe in type as the learning disability increases (Kiernan and Kiernan, 1994).

Personal learning styles (1)
Teacher engages with a hearing-impaired

As a general rule, it's probably always best to consider your knowledge of a child's personal learning style.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you already know about the children in your class and the way they engage best?
  • Have you assessed their sensory functioning?
  • Are you engaging in teaching practices that are designed to promote sensory and perceptual development?
  • Are you using teaching methodologies that take pupil preference into account?
  • Are these methodologies supported by specifically selected resources designed to maximise the specific learning you
    want to tackle?

Personal learning styles (2)

Rather than subject a pupil to a battery of sensory stimulants in the hope of striking lucky, a better starting point would be to begin with the pupil's personal learning style and provide a safe, secure and predictable learning environment into which sensory stimuli may be introduced gradually, their impact upon the pupil's personal learning style noted, and elements of good practice disseminated across the timetable into (other curricula) subjects.

Richard Aird, 2001

Find out more (1)
Open book

Aird, R., (2001), The Education and Care of Children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties, London: David Fulton.

Bogdashina, O. (2003), Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome, London: Jessica Kingsley.

Bunning, K. (1998), To engage or not to engage? Affecting the interactions of learning disabled adults, International Language and Communication Disorders. Vol 33; pp 386-391.

Grandin, T. (2006), Thinking in Pictures, New York: Vintage Press.

Kiernan, C. and Kiernan, D. (1994), Challenging Behaviour in Schools for Pupils with Severe Learning Difficulties, Mental Handicap Research.

Find out more (2)
Open book

Mednick, M. (2002), Supporting Children with Multiple Disabilities, Birmingham: Questions Publishing.

Pagliano, P. (2001), Using a Multisensory Environment.
A Practical Guide for Teachers
, London: David Fulton.

Smith Myles, B., Tapscott Cook, K., Miller N, Rinner, L., and Robbins, L. (2000), Asperger Syndrome and Sensory Issues: Practical Solutions for Making Sense of the World, Kansas: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.