“Listen to Me”: Supporting Learners with Multi-Sensory Impairment (MSI)

MSI learners are a unique group of children with distinctive needs for learning and development. All children and young people with MSI experience the following difficulties:

- Access to information about the world
- Communication and forming relationships
- Independent movement and mobility

This presents huge challenges for their support and learning needs. A ‘one size fits all’ model is not effective and person-centred approaches are essential in planning interventions and packages of support.

There are everyday practical challenges such as connecting with others and having conversations and longer term there may be issues around developing relationships and inclusion in society. It’s vital that MSI learners have meaningful, purposeful access to and engagement with all learning.

Every MSI learner is unique, with their own sensory needs, skills and ways of accessing information and communicating. It’s the responsibility of those that support them to find ways into their world, ensuring that they are listened to and valued.

Learning should be purposeful so minimal isolation, active participation and equal partnership in the process are essential. Listening to the MSI learner and identifying their strengths, challenges and motivations facilitates an individualised approach that supports their learning and quality of life. By building relationships and understanding the child we can prevent learned helplessness.

From the start of their learning, children should have opportunities to engage with the world, which means that adults must take a step back and listen. We must look beyond their disabilities and enter their world through touch, movement, gesture, signs and objects, learning to share and sustain the connection and being directed by each other. Paul Hart describes communication as being about partnership, responding to the communication needs of the child at their level and their mode.

The loss of vision and hearing is different for each individual and further complexed by how the other sensory systems function. David Brown identifies real variation in the impact of sensory processing on MSI learners. Some may seek strong sensory input to feel connected with their bodies and environment, while others may be sensory defensive, withdrawing from touching or struggling to self-regulate. So ‘knowing the child’ is the best guiding principle to support them to connect with their own bodies and the wider world.

Making a change from one setting to another, or transitioning from one phase of life to another, can be challenging for anyone. It’s often difficult for MSI learners who rely on routine and predictability. Successful transition depends upon our ability to listen and know them well. Transition to a new environment or next phase for the MSI learner must be well planned through interactive decisions, shared goals, continuity and co-ordination.

The ‘Listen to Me’ MSI Conference will provide practical strategies for supporting children and young people with sensory impairment and feature keynote speakers, David Brown and Paul Hart. It takes place on Thursday 10th May at Manchester Conference Centre. For more information and booking details, please visit: www.seashelltrust.org.uk/listentome #listenmsi