There are eight senses; five that we can all think of, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, as well as three that we might not know so much about, vestibular (balance and movement), proprioception (body awareness), and interoception (awareness of what’s happening inside the body).  This article explores the first five senses, and provides us with practical ways to learn about them with our own children, or with children we care for in a club or group, as well as thinking about what Jesus did when he met people with sensory impairments.  We’ll think about the remaining three senses in special articles to follow.

So, let’s explore our five most familiar senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch:

Sight
One of our senses is sight (or vision).  Some children or leaders may have never been able to see (sometimes referred to as ‘blind’), have experienced partial or full sight loss, or have a visual impairment.

To simulate partial sight or vision loss, try the different pairs of simulation glasses in the Vine (Visual Impairment North East) Simulation Pack (visit their website, https://vinesimspecs.com/index.php for details).  Each one simulates a different form of sight or vision loss (refer to the booklet for details).

Vine simulation package

If we have a child or leader in our group who is blind, has experienced partial or full sight loss, or is visually impaired, think about how we can actively include them.

  • Make sure you speak to them regularly, clearly, and confirm that they understand. Use their name.
  • If appropriate, provide resources in large print, or braille. Use large print for presentation slides etc.  Ask them what resources they need, and provide them.
  • Ensure there are no obstructions, protruding signs, trip hazards, glass doors without signs etc.

What did Jesus do?
Remember when Jesus encountered Bartimaeus, a man born blind, on the road to Jericho? (Mark 10:46-52)  When Bartimaeus was brought before him, Jesus didn’t assume what Bartimaeus wanted, but said “What would you have me do for you?”,  giving him the dignity of allowing him to ask.  There a good example for us all to follow; never assume, always ask.

Hearing
One of our senses is hearing.  Some children or leaders may have never been able to hear (sometimes referred to as ‘Deaf’) or have experienced partial or full hearing loss (sometimes referred to as ‘deaf’.)  To simulate partial hearing loss, put on some ear defenders and try to have a conversation with someone…  It’s hard isn’t it?

Ear defenders

If we have a child or leader in our group who is ‘Deaf’, ‘deaf’, or has experienced partial hearing loss, think about how we can actively include them.

  • Do they use sign language, and if so can we learn how to communicate with them in this way?  Make sure we use the same sign language as they do e.g. British Sign Language (BSL), Makaton, American Sign Language (ASL) etc.
  • Do they lip-read?  Make sure they can see our faces when we speak to them.
  • Could we make what we do more visual to help communication be more effective?

What did Jesus do?
Remember when Jesus encountered a man who was Deaf and who couldn’t speak, near Decapolis? (Mark 7:31-37)  Jesus was asked to heal the man, but rather than doing this in front of everyone, making a spectacle out of it, he took the man to one side, away from the crowd, and there he healed him.  Another great example from Jesus of how to treat people with dignity and respect.

Smell
One of our senses is smell.  Some children or leaders may experience sensory overload when there are strong smells around.  Sensory Processing Disorder can mean that children or adults have under-developed or over-developed senses, including smell.

Kiuno Essential OilsTo test our sense of smell, get a set of 12 essential oils that you can try to identify through smell.  Can you tell which is which?  The list of ‘smells’ in our pack (above) is:

  • Rosemary
  • Frankincense
  • Bergamot
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
  • Lemon
  • Lavender
  • Sweet Orange
  • Peppermint
  • Cinnamon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sandalwood

What did Jesus do?
Remember when Jesus had his feet anointed in pure nard by Mary the sister of Martha, so that the fragrance filled the whole house? (John 12:1-8)  Judas Iscariot criticised this act, objecting to the cost (as he stole from the money bag), but Jesus rebuked him and accepted the act of humble worship.  Everyone can worship God, and whether they have a disability or not is no barrier.  We should encourage all to worship in ways that feel right to them.

Taste
One of our senses is taste.  Some children or leaders may resist certain tastes, or may seek out certain flavours.  Some may put non-food items in their mouths.  Sensory Processing Disorder can mean that children or adults have under-developed or over-developed senses, including taste.

To test our sense of taste try three different types of Haribo’s, sweet, sour, and salty, that you can try to identify through taste.  Which do you prefer?  Can you tell which is which?

What did Jesus do?
Jesus said that believers are “…the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)  But he went on to say that if we lose our ‘saltiness’, our Christian ‘flavour’, then we are useless to the Kingdom; no good for anything.  This doesn’t mean that someone who lacks the sense of taste is useless, but rather that just as salt brings out the taste in food, so believers should use what we’ve been given to bring flavour to the lives of others.

Touch
One of our senses is touch.  Some children or leaders may seek out certain touch sensations and find them enjoyable.  Sensory Processing Disorder can mean that children or adults have under-developed or over-developed senses, including touch, which can sometimes mean they do not feel pain if injured, or can easily burn themselves without realising.

To explore our sense of touch try three different types of sensory touch experiences with your group, e.g.

  • Gelli Baff
  • Water Beads
  • Putty Slime

What did Jesus do?
There is much we can learn from Jesus and the gift of touch.  Jesus intentionally used tactile methods in most of his healing miracles (e.g. a man with leprosy in Luke 5:12-13), as well as in his encounters with many other people.  He showed us by example that touching someone that society usually rejects or avoids is powerful, both through the restorative power of touch as well as the message that the act of touching someone that nobody else will sends to others.  We don’t categorise people as ‘clean’ or ‘unclean’ so much today, but we still act in a similar way towards people with disabilities, illness, or deformities, for example.  Jesus showed us a better way.  (Note: Always seek permission before you touch somebody!)

So, I hope you’ve found it interesting to explore the first five senses, understanding them, yourself, and others better, while appreciating what Jesus teaches us about them and though them too.  We’ll think more about the remaining three senses, vestibular (balance and movement), proprioception (body awareness) and interoception (inside the body) in the next few weeks.

Mark Arnold
The Additional Needs Blogfather
3rd July 2019

New International Reader’s Version (NIRV)
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