Multi-sensory impairment and prematurity

Children and young people with multi-sensory impairment (MSI) have impairments of both sight and hearing. The effect of a combined reduction in both vision and hearing, even if mild, affects the amount and quality of information that can be incidentally learned from the environment.

Poor access to everyday information can have an impact on social interaction, understanding of concepts, emotional development, communication and independent mobility skills. As a result development and learning are affected.

Some children born prematurely will have MSI but there has been little research on the actual numbers involved. An American census of children and young people in 2011 identified just under 10,000 individuals who could be described as MSI. Of these, 12 per cent were described as being multi-sensory impaired as a result of ‘complication of prematurity’.

Any possible medical treatments will be related to those for the individual hearing and vision impairments mentioned previously.

Effort should be focused on the support needed for the child’s communication, mobility, social and educational development. As with single sensory impairments, early intervention is the key to improving outcomes for the child. View more information about early intervention for children with multi-sensory impairment, other guidance and sign posting for parents.


Sense's Children's Specialist Services are a team of specialist advisory teachers, children’s therapists, and Children and Family Support Workers.

The team provides advice and information to multi-sensory-impaired children and young people, to their families or carers, and to the professionals who work with them. They also provide support in the home, at school or at their centres of excellence.

Related links in this section

Premature birth and sensory impairments in children

Visual impairment and prematurity

Hearing impairment and prematurity


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Reviewed: May 2015
Review due: May 2017

First published: Thursday 22 August 2013
Updated: Wednesday 17 August 2016