Sensitizing Children with Multiple Impairments to the World
By: Kristie Smith
Eva Grant wrote a beautiful poem called “My 5 Senses”. The poem states:
I can see trees and grass, the sun and sky;
I can taste chocolate ice cream, apple pie;
I can hear music, laughter, words you said;
I can smell perfume, flowers, baking bread;
I can touch silk and velvet, a baby’s skin;
What a wonderful world I’m in!
Children with multiple disabilities (MIVI) feel the same as everyone else. They, too, crave to use their senses to explore and be a part of our beautiful world. If they cannot see, teach them another way to “see”. My student learned color concepts by associating colors with foods and smells. She loves colors even though she has prosthetic eyes because she can taste brown through chocolate.
All human beings have a soul and the same basic needs: to love, to be loved, to be productive and to socialize. None of us are completely independent. Imagine if you have to cut your own hair or perform a surgery on yourself. None of us are independent, nor do any of us have the right to restrict people with disabilities from fully enjoying the world. Someone may say, “But what good does it do? He does not know if anyone is around him or not.” My answer is, “How do you know what he actually understands, and truthfully, it is much more than you believe.” I also propose this thought: What if I called the dentist and asked for my teeth to be whitened, and the receptionist laughs and says, “Why Ms. Smith, you are not a supermodel, so I do not think we will whiten your teeth.” Placing labels and not giving your all to any human being is nothing short of a crime in my book.
The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) offers so many wonderful items that help, as Dr. Virginia Bishop states, “Bringing the world to the child." For example, all people need stimulation. Bodies get tired and restless. People without a physical disability can get up, walk around, and look at pictures on the wall. Our students crave this as well but cannot communicate their needs, so they moan, rock, bite, or act out. Their bodies are screaming for sensory input.
APH has the most brilliant kit called “The Sensory Learning Kit” that comes with switches for the child to activate a fan, a vibrating pillow, a radio and many other devices themselves, so that they may be in charge of providing stimulus for themselves. This is setting the student up for success. The kit also comes with an ice pack, multi-colored lenses for a flashlight, a spinning pinwheel and other great items that will enhance awareness and stimulation for the child.
APH offers a Walk-Run for Fitness Kit that provides a personal guide wire system or you can use a human guide with the kit’s adjustable tether, which is long enough for people in wheelchairs.
Other great ideas for sensory input are listed below. Every person has the right to be happy and have a quality life. A person with MIVI may have a different lifestyle, but it can still be a great and fulfilling life with friends, productivity, and love.
• Warm baby lotion for a few seconds in the microwave and gently rub the lotion on the legs, arms and back
• Heating pads (as long as they are being supervised) are a great way to relax restless legs (or sensory deprivation)
• Sounds like listening to beans in a bottle rattle make a huge difference. This activity addresses sensory deprivation issues as well
• Listening to music- William Congreve once said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”
• Feeling of wet and dry textures – a small tub of sand, soft items, water, floating ducks – (Always look for items and ideas that will please the person with MIVI) Do not force a person with disabilities to touch anything that is not pleasing to them- briefly swipe their hands and watch for a response
• For little ones (ages 3 and younger) APH offers the Let’s Seekit that includes pompoms, high contrast foam, puppets and many other excellent items
• APH also has the Sensory Cylinder Set that encourages hand manipulation, colors, tactual and weight awareness
• Brushing with a soft brush will ease anxiety for some students who are sensory deprived
Remember what Eva Grant beautifully said in her poem -- we all have needs to experience the world: to smell, touch, taste, see, hear in a variety of ways. As one of my heroes in visual impairment says, “If you can’t bring the child to the world, bring the world to the child." ~Dr. Virginia Bishop.