This study is an interesting piece of work that shows the importance of senses such as smell for those with a multi-sensory impairment (MSI).
One of the challenges of any research related to MSI is that it is a relatively low incidence condition. There are approximately 256,000 deafblind people in the UK, but many are older people, who have acquired deafblindness. Although around 21,000 have some sight and hearing problems there are only around 4,000 children with significant hearing and visual impairments.
The challenge of finding enough case studies and examples is therefore a limitation of this study, and it is recognised; so this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a significant criticism of this research. The design of the study ensures there are measures to triangulate the observations and the quality of them. It does however make it hard to draw conclusions for general MSI and wider populations or for practice – given how far this would be extrapolating the research.
The research illustrates that it is possible to use fragrances well
For some time people with congenital deafblindness and other disabilities have used objects of reference to symbolise an activity, person or place. For example, a towel may indicate swimming, or a seatbelt may be used to show it is time to go to the car. This approach can allow people to make choices and enables others to let them know what is planned.
The study gives rise to the challenge to use scents in a meaningful way to help students select food for lunch at school. The availability and accuracy of scents and access to reliable supplies remains an issue. That said, much of the equipment we use within the MSI fields can be specialist or adapted, so there is potentially a specialist market for products in this area that could certainly be explored.
An interesting aspect of the research are the benefits of scent to increase motivation, autonomy and reliability of choice-making with individuals who have limits on the information available to them through their sensory system. These benefits are worth illustrating and something many practitioners have explored through objects of reference for many years.
The potential for expanding on this research is significant. For example, if this works with young people who are complex learners with MSI it is likely that it could be applied to a wider group of learners with complex learning and developmental needs.
The research illustrates that it is possible to use fragrances well and the mutually beneficial partnership within the disability and corporate sectors. While the research has a limited sample size it does establish the concepts as robustly as possible.