Listen to this article

Unlocking the Eight Sensory Systems: A Deep Dive into Their Influence on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

by Bianka Wasserman

The Five, scratch that, Eight Sensory Systems and Their Impact on Deaf or Hard of Hearing Children

Our sensory systems allow us to perceive and interact with the world around us every day. We’re all familiar with the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch – but did you know there are actually eight? Deaf or hard of hearing children often face unique challenges in their sensory experiences. Understanding the eight sensory systems and how they may affect these children is essential for providing appropriate support and intervention.

Let’s explore each sensory system and discuss examples of how they can impact a deaf or hard of hearing child.

1. Visual System:

The visual system is responsible for our sense of sight. It enables us to process and interpret visual information, allowing us to perceive colours, shapes, and depth. With children who are deaf or hard of hearing the visual system often plays a crucial role in compensating for the absence or reduced auditory input. For example, a deaf or hard of hearing child may rely on lip-reading, sign language, or visual alarms to comprehend spoken language or respond to auditory cues.

2. Auditory System:

The auditory system is our sense of hearing. It allows us to perceive and interpret sounds in our environment. While deaf and hard of hearing children may have limitations in their auditory system, it is important to note that they some children can perceive certain sounds through hearing aids or cochlear implants. These devices enhance their ability to hear and interpret sounds, which can positively affect their spoken language development and communication skills.

3. Tactile System:

The tactile system refers to the sense of touch and provides valuable sensory input for deaf or hard of hearing children. They may use touch to communicate, such as through sign language or tactile sign language, which involves feeling the shape and movement of hands and fingers. Tactile input can also be useful for alerting a child to important information, such as vibrations to indicate a doorbell or phone ringing.

4. Vestibular System:

The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining balance and spatial orientation. Deaf or hard of hearing children may experience challenges in this system, which can impact their coordination and ability to navigate their surroundings. For example, a child with a hearing loss may rely more on visual cues to maintain balance and may benefit from additional support in developing their vestibular system through activities like balance training.

5. Proprioceptive System:

The proprioceptive system provides feedback about body position and movement. Deaf or hard of hearing children may rely more on their proprioceptive sense to compensate for the absence of auditory input. For instance, they may rely on the vibration or feeling of the floor to detect someone approaching behind them.

6. Gustatory System:

The gustatory system is responsible for our sense of taste. While the sense of taste is not directly affected by deafness or hearing loss, it is important to consider that deaf or hard of hearing children may have reduced access to auditory information related to food, such as sizzling sounds or the sound of boiling water. These children may rely more on visual cues, such as observing the changes in colour or texture of food to determine its readiness.

7. Olfactory System:

The olfactory system relates to our sense of smell. The olfactory system, or sense of smell, is not directly impacted by deafness or hearing loss. However, it is worth mentioning that deaf or hard of hearing children may rely more on their sense of smell to detect potential dangers, such as the smell of smoke or spoiled food, in the absence of auditory cues.

8. Interoceptive System:

The interoceptive system refers to the perception of internal bodily sensations, including hunger, thirst, pain, and body temperature. Deaf or hard of hearing children may rely more on their interoceptive sense to understand and respond to their bodily needs, as they may have limited access to auditory cues related to these sensations.

Understanding the eight sensory systems and their impact on deaf or hard of hearing children is essential in creating an inclusive and supportive environment for their overall development. By recognising the unique challenges faced by these children in each sensory domain, educators, parents, and professionals can tailor interventions and strategies to optimise their learning, communication, and overall well-being.