Perceptual disabilities are a type of learning disorder or learning disability. They are one of the types of specific learning disabilities defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); because of that, children with them are considered eligible for special education services.
To understand perceptual disabilities, it is important to understand two things. The four stages of learning, which are:
• Input (the initial entry of information into the brain);
• Integration (the processing and interpretation of that information);
• Memory (the storage and ability to recall that information); and
• Output (the ability to convey that information through language or motor output).
Because perceptual disabilities occur at the input stage, it is important to clarify two things. First, they do not mean that there is a problem with the sensory acquisition of information. People with perceptual disabilities may have nothing the matter with their sight and hearing. The disability is how that information is handled. Second, because they cause problems at the initial stage of information processing, other stages may be affected as well.
These disabilities may be categorized by the particular sensory area that is affected.
• Seeing—Visual disabilities may result in problems with organization, positioning, judging distance, and hand-eye coordination. The ability to read social cues, such as facial expressions, may also be impacted.
• Hearing—Auditory disabilities may lead to an inability to distinguish differences between sounds, trouble staying focused on a primary auditory input, or having trouble keeping up with auditory input.
• Smell and taste disabilities may result in an unusual level of sensitivity or insensitivity and may affect the ability to distinguish odors and tastes.
• Touch—Tactile disabilities may either result in a dulled sense of touch, or one that is unusually sensitive to stimuli.
Perceptual disabilities may also affect the proprioceptive sense, which has to do with body self-awareness, and the vestibular sense, which has to do with balance and equilibrium.