Is there something you can’t quite put your finger on about your son? Have teachers or medical professionals thrown the words autism, ADHD or ADD around without any of them feeling quite right? Does your son wear his heart on his sleeve?
Maybe your son is a highly sensitive child (HSC).
Fifteen to twenty percent of the population is highly sensitive. It’s not an illness or disorder; highly sensitive traits are inborn. Being highly sensitive is merely a part of who a person is.
Elaine Aron, the guru of all things highly sensitive related, explains highly sensitive with DOES:
D – depth of processing
O – easily overstimulated
E – giving emphasis to our emotional reactions and having strong empathy
S – being sensitive to all the subtleties around us
The nervous system of an HSC picks up extensive stimuli and processes sensory information more deeply and intensely than that of a non- highly sensitive.
It is not that the senses are more highly tuned, but that information is processed more thoroughly and deeply by the brain (and the spinal cord by means of reflexes).
In short, this means that highly sensitive people, particularly children, have difficulty filtering out external stimuli. They notice more of what is going on around them. They internalize their external environment.
It means they are quickly overwhelmed in busy environments; by loud or sudden noises, unknown or new places, strong smells, crowds, lots of activity or emotionally charged atmospheres.
This can out itself in unexplained tears, a complete retreat, anger, meltdowns, or screaming. Carers and professionals easily misconstrue this overwhelm as serious behavioral issues.
An HSC’s observations skills are finely tuned. They notice changes in their environments, no matter how small or subtle.
Highly sensitives reflect thoroughly before acting. HSCs take things to heart. These children are emotional sponges who have no problem putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. They take on the emotions of people around them. The tears, sadness and extreme reactions to a situation that does not directly impact them can seem puzzling to parents or teachers.
HSCs are deep thinkers. They are more cautious or anxious (at the playground is a good example) than other children because all possible outcomes and scenarios go through their head before they take action.
These traits, in a nutshell, are what being highly sensitive is all about, but they come hand in hand with personal needs.
One of the big needs of a highly sensitive person downtime. Lots of downtime to recharge, process information away from external stimulation. Alone time is essential for the emotional wellbeing of a highly sensitive, just as food and drink are for their physical wellbeing.
To thrive HSCs need to understand themselves and their own needs. They need acceptance. We need to support them so they can acquire the tools they need to cope in a world that is certainly not designed with HSCs in mind.
Think your child might be highly sensitive? Check out the Highly Sensitive Child Test: The Earlier the Better.
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