High Sensitivity is NOT a Disorder – Back to Basics
Updated: 6 days ago
I’ve had quite a few opportunities to discuss high sensitivity with parents and teachers over the summer holiday, which honestly feels very good for two reasons: one, it’s great to be able to clear up some very common misconceptions about what it is to be sensitive or to have a highly sensitive child, and two, people are actually interested!
I still find it very hard to believe that not long ago, I had no answers to any of my questions regarding my child. None. My husband and I had no clue what was up.
We were constantly struggling to try and answer questions like “Why is he like that?” and “Why won’t he join the other kids?”
Too many times we’ve been told by friends, family, teachers and caregivers that our child was different, that we were encouraging this, and that that was not a good thing.
For years it hurt. It hurt to be blamed for the struggles our child was going through. It hurt to worry and wonder whether there was in fact a serious problem we should be trying to solve or manage. It hurt that we were at a loss.
And after we did find out that our son was highly sensitive, it hurt to get that look from people when we tried to explain there was nothing wrong with our child.
But here we are today, at peace and happy (knock on wood). Our child is more carefree than he’s ever been, makes friends in seconds, and is enjoying life the way we all should. And I find myself at this point, not long after the dreadful sleepless nights filled with questions without answers, discussing this thing called “high sensitivity” with people who want to hear about it.
Earlier this month, I was interviewed by a lovely journalist, Brigitte Rozario, for her parenting site called Thots n Tots. I was asked to explain what high sensitivity was, and how it was different from autism. I’ve also been asked by several people over the last few weeks how sensitivity differs from sensory processing disorder. Those are all very valid questions because after all, even though they are essentially very different things, a lot of the behaviors displayed can be very common. But that’s also why it’s a good idea to have our children screened if we feel like they might need more help than we can give them on our own.
The best articles to read on the subject are, in my opinion, those written by Elaine Aron herself. Dr. Aron is the researcher who coined the term “highly sensitive”, has been studying the trait since the nineties, and has written numerous books and articles on the topic. This one sums up the differences very nicely while this one goes more in-depth.
To sum things up even further, I have highlighted a few of my interview answers below. But if you have the time, please go ahead and read the whole thing.
What does “highly sensitive child” mean?
High sensitivity is an evolutionary character trait found in 20% of the population regardless of age, race and gender. It is also found in over 120 other animal species. Highly sensitive people are genetically programmed to feel things more deeply and experience the world more intensely due to a highly tuned nervous system. Most importantly, high sensitivity is not a disorder and does not need to be treated.
How is it different from autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder that requires treatment and behavioural therapy. High sensitivity is a character trait that does not need to be fixed. Although some of the behaviours displayed might be similar to some extent, the causes are very different.
Not much is known about it. Do you see this as a problem to parents and children? How?
It is a serious problem not knowing why your child stands out of every crowd and not knowing why that is or what to do about it. When we found out our son was simply highly sensitive, not only did we get the peace of mind that we were desperate for, but we learned how to manage our expectations and how to speak to our child and deal with him in a way that made him feel supported, loved and understood. Knowing what he needed helped us figure out when to back off and let him do things at his own pace. When our attitudes, expectations and behaviour was changed appropriately, our son eventually began to metamorphose into a confident and independent little boy.
Not knowing your child is highly sensitive and setting unreasonable expectations that obviously will not be met can be frustrating to parents and detrimental to a child’s self-esteem.
And, what is your opinion on labeling your child as highly sensitive?
Like most people, I am not a fan of labels. However, I do believe that understanding the challenges your child faces daily and the reasons for this is crucial if we want to help our children. The label should serve to explain to those who play an important role in our children’s development (teachers, doctors, caregivers, etc.) what they need to flourish and why. What the label should not do is segregate our kids from the crowds to which they belong.
Head on over to Thots n Tots for loads of interesting articles. Also please do read the ones I’ve linked to in my post; they are very helpful to those trying to understand or explain what high sensitivity is.