What is multi-sensory impairment?

Multi-sensory impairment (MSI) is a term that is used to describe the loss of sight and hearing. It is also sometimes known as deafblindness or dual sensory impairment. Children with MSI may also have cognitive, medical or physical disabilities, and challenges which affect the other senses.

MSI may be present from birth or it may be acquired later. The age of onset during childhood will affect development in different ways. Many children with MSI will still have some useful vision and/or hearing. It is important that the use of this is encouraged from an early age in order to support development.

How common is MSI?

In children MSI is rare. According to a report undertaken for Sense in 2010 there were 4,000 children in the UK between the ages of 0 and 19 who had significant hearing and visual impairments. This means that about three in every 10,000 children in the UK have MSI.

What causes MSI?

There can be many causes and reasons for MSI including infections during pregnancy, prematurity, illness/accidents, cerebral palsy and rare syndromes such as Ushers, CHARGE, rubella and Down’s syndrome.

Importance of early identification

In infants and children the early identification of MSI is vital. Early detection will enable the timely intervention of skilled and specially qualified practitioners to take place. Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to assess and make provision for children with MSI.

Support for children with MSI

Most local authority sensory services for children have at least one specialist who has a MSI qualification. The organisation Sense also offers services for children with MSI and their families on a regional basis. Children with MSI require a wide range of interventions to support their successful development, although the level of need will vary. Some children may need help from one-to-one support workers, such as an intervenor or a communicator-guide to help them to access all aspects of living and learning.

Useful links

More information about MSI from Sense

More information from the National deaf children’s society

Starting point – help and support for parents and carers of visually impaired children