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ECC at Perkins: The importance of sensory efficiency

Sensory efficiency skills help students use their senses to explore the world and achieve their goals.

Ada Chen encourages her student, Casey, to utilize all of her senses during an interactive lesson about winter. Photo Credit: Anna Miller.

Sensory efficiency is one of nine life skills kids with visual impairments and multiple disabilities learn through the Expanded Core Curriculum at Perkins. That means students learn to use all of their senses — touch, smell, taste and any usable vision and hearing — to get information about their surroundings, engage in active learning and achieve their goals.

There are so many ways our teachers and students work together to make the best use of the senses. Here are a few of the ways we engage all of the senses, and why sensory efficiency is such an important life skill.

The importance of sensory efficiency

A common misconception about blindness is that people who are blind live in the dark. In reality, most people who are blind do have usable vision. So it’s important to teach children when they’re young how they can make the most of the vision they have, as well as their other senses. This takes on added importance for children with multiple disabilities, whether they have both vision and hearing loss, or a combination of vision loss and limited physical mobility.

The fact is, every child is different and has different sensory strengths. We do everything we can to make sure every child has the tools to build and harness their strengths so they can access their core academics and lead the fullest lives possible.

How is sensory efficiency taught?

  • Comparisons: The sense of touch is really important for kids with visual impairments, especially those who have hearing loss as well. In the Deafblind Program, a teacher might hand a student two different objects and have them use their sense of touch to learn what they feel like. They then might ask the student to identify a scarf from a hat, for instance.
  • Gardening: A lot of students at Perkins develop green thumbs, because gardening is such an engaging activity to the senses. In a typical lesson, a student might learn about ow succulents thrive in dry climates by tearing open plump green leaves to feel the water inside.
  • Community exploration: Even a trip to the grocery store can be a sensory adventure. They’re taught to pay close attention to the cool air flowing from refrigerated dairy shelves, the shape and heft of various sized milk cartons, the texture of a plastic-wrapped steak and the distinctive aroma of the seafood section.

What is the Expanded Core Curriculum?

The Expanded Core Curriculum is built of of nine life skills Perkins students with visual impairments, deafblindness and additional disabilities learn on top of their core academics. It covers everything from using technology to independent living to socializing with peers — knowledge most sighted children acquire by observing everyday life. The Expanded Core Curriculum gives students who are blind, deafblind and have additional disabilities a toolbox of crucial skills they need to succeed at school, in social situations, at home, on the job and everywhere else.

Slater, who is deafblind, types an email to her Aunt Lori. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

ECC at Perkins: Communicating the importance of compensatory access

Student practices white cane technique as her orientation and mobility instructor observes.

Expanded Core Curriculum: Orientation & mobility in every step

A teacher and student communicate via sign language

What learning looks like this fall