Are you sensory deprived?

by Shastri Maharaj
Trinidad Guardian
February 5th, 1992

Suppose I tell you that many people have suffered from sensory deprivation. You will immediately want to know: "What does this mean?". Essentially, it is about depriving (denying, suppressing, disallowing) a human being in the early years of his life of instances and experiences by which that person can be an active participant.

It is quite normal to see parents take their screaming youngsters into the beautiful waters of our beaches. We look on in dismay as we reflect on similar memories. To the child, however, it may not be the best way he or she would like to be "sea- initiate". That initial and forced dip into the seawater creates an impression and "sensation" on the child that he, in a lot of instances becomes afraid and reluctant to venture into "sea water" further than ankle deep, even in his adult life.

This kind of action by parents on their children, although taken for granted, is not necessarily the kind of sensation that is meaningful and enjoyable to the child. I am sure the psychologists would agree that it is necessary that the child gravitate towards the water on his or her own time. Without realizing it, parents are very responsible for the sensory education of their children.

Remember at the beach, when someone is always trying to prevent the child from getting sand "into his mouth". This only leads to restrict the child from experiencing and gaining information on the textural and tactile qualities inherent in the sand as he touches, moves and manipulates it.

The smell, colour, even taste, temperature and weight of the material is automatically recorded and registered within the child's memory banks. Of course little do these adults know that the child's main concern is to explore the material in "non adult"' ways rather than to satisfy its hunger.

Apart from touch, I am sure that you are aware of other instances with respect to sound, smell and sight that have been treated with equal ignorance and insensitivity with respect to the child's sensory development. Nevertheless, such pronouncements are common to most families. Call ..."it an inheritance".
When it comes to sound, a child's exposure to a wide cross section of music is essential if he is to develop a receptive attitude towards various types of sound. It will help in developing listening skills which are crucial in language development, acquisition and the accompanying verbal accent in his diction. He may tend to be more introspective in his analysis of facts before providing an opinion. In time he can become quite tolerant of the various musical forms, whether it be classical, pan, reggae, jazz, African and East Indian music, punk rock, calypso or rap.

Visually the child must become aware that life can be represented in different ways. He must be given every opportunity to embrace this fact. He must be taken to Art Galleries, the Museum, Carnival, Phagwa, to see the Divali lights, to the beach in the day and the night!. Literature on many subjects, accompanied with visual images, must be made available to the impressionable child.

Sensory deprivation can be considered a major factor responsible for peoples' inability to be tolerant and receptive to varying philosophies, points of views and novel experiences. Art activities, be it music, dance, drama, two and three-dimensional art do provide to a great extent sensory stimulation. This is not to imply that the artist is not sensory deprived. On the contrary, I am suggesting that more people who are exposed to activities in which they must rely on the use of their senses generate a perspective on life that is positive and continuously evolving. These people are not self opinionated. They can provide constructive criticism on a majority of topics and issues. They are independent in their actions, original in their thoughts and contented to deal with the discovery of their evolving self.

Inevitably, it is these people who become the positive role models. They are a simple, humble, selfless people. They are contented with the search for love and sharing. Their concern is not competitive, selfish or egoistical. And as they journey into their "old age" they can rely, I am sure, on rewarding and sustaining experiences which are rooted in some artistic or creative process.