Sensory Impairment

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Sensory Impairments is when one of your primary senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, or spatial awareness) is no longer functions at a normal capacity. A person does not need full loss of a specific sense to have an impairment. Impairment can be as simple as needing glasses to correct impaired vision or hearing aids to improve hearing.

Sensory Impairment and Compensation

We evolved with sensory abilities because of their value for survival. Accordingly, each sensory function interacts with surrounding environments, providing valuable information for survival, guiding reaction, and protective responses.

When one sensory ability is impaired, survival instincts heighten sensitivity in other senses.  T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “whether from biological inheritance or childhood exposures, we emerge into adulthood with a set of strengths and weaknesses. Compensation skills allow us to navigate a life path that best suits this imbalance. When weakness in one area prevents successful completion of a task, we can shift, draw from a strength, and continue in a slightly different, or a radical departure from the originally intended path” (2022).

Research has discovered that “a loss in one sensory system is balances by an increased physiological sensitivity in other intact modalities (Bäckman & Dixon, 1992). Consequently, even with an impairment, we figure out how to operate with the data we can pull from our environments.

Wayland Vaugh wrote, “nature is so resourceful that where its powers fail in one direction other means of adaptation are made available.” He continues, “deaf children are actually at an advantage in certain respects when compared with normal youngsters…” (1926).

Other Sensory Impairments

T. Franklin Murphy wrote “​our bodies constantly are in flux, changing and adapting to surrounding environments. Sometimes we consciously recognize the environmental forces behind a trigger, other times the process is independent of conscious awareness. A psychological concept that refers to our ability to absorb and learn from these somatic messages flowing from bodily changes is somatic intelligence” (2022).

​The ability to sense inner changes in our bodies chemistry, noticing acute feeling affects has been referred to as the eighth sense. In psychology, we refer to this as interoception. This sense can be impaired, as well. Some must traverse the difficulties of life without clear sensory information flowing from the bodies reactions.

A condition called Alexithymia defines a state of inability to feel emotions. This condition overlaps with poor or limited interoception. We should also consider alexithymia as a sensory impairments that requires compensating behaviors to rectify the deficits. However, through developing other sensing capabilities, we can mitigate the handicap of a sensory impairment.


Bäckman, Lars & Dixon, Roger A. (1992). Psychological Compensation: A Theoretical Framework. Psychological Bulletin, 112(2), 259-283.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2022). Compensatory Skills. Psychology Fanatic. Published 7-7-2022. Accessed 7-9-2022
Murphy, T. Franklin (2022) Somatic Intelligence. Psychology Fanatic. Published 5-8-2022. Accessed 7-9-2022.
Vaughan, W. (1926). The psychology of compensation. Psychological Review, 33(6), 467-479.

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