I have always been the girl who carried around a sweater, even in the middle of summer, because it was too cold inside the store, the classroom, or my office. I’m always cold—except when I’m too hot.
And noise? I’ve never been able to handle a lot of noise, especially music. It’s great when I’m in the mood, but not when I’m trying to decide which beans to buy at the grocery store or when I’m trying to talk to a friend over a nice meal at a restaurant. I actually pick stores and restaurants that have little-to-no music—and TVs are a complete no-no. I hate being distracted, or having my dinner companion distracted, while we eat.
As for smells, they’re nice…as long as they’re not in my house. And I can only handle certain perfumes, soaps, and cleaning solutions without getting a stuffy nose.
And lights? They’re fine as long as they’re bright enough to see what I’m cooking or cleaning. But when I’m working and reading, the lights have to be soft without being dark. Fortunately, I have several lamps that I turn on and off throughout the day and dimmers wherever I can put them.
I’ve always thought I was a difficult, persnickety person, who had to force myself to adjust to society. Thankfully, I met Robby, and he’s very similar to me. We don’t blare music or TV in our house, we don’t burn candles or have air fresheners, and we don’t need the AC set on 68 all summer. We’re perfectly happy reading a book in the evening and going to bed early (at least that’s what we did before we had a kid!). We’re a perfect match.
Then we had Gordon, and I wasn’t surprised in the least that he seems to be like us. He likes to watch Curious George and Wild Kratts sometimes, but he doesn’t care for a lot of extraneous sounds (and does NOT want me to sing unless it’s bed time—go figure!). He likes side-by-side play but gets anxious when a rambunctious kid heads in his direction. And music class? That was a big NO. Sign language class, though…that one seems to be going better.
Awhile back, I stumbled upon the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, and I knew immediately it was meant for me. I took the self-test, had Robby take it, and took the child version for Gordon—and it turned out we’re all “Highly Sensitive People,” or HSPs.
The author began researching high sensitivity in 1991 and continues to research the topic of Sensory-Processing Sensitivity (the trait’s scientific term). What amazes me is that 15-20% of the population are highly sensitive—meaning it’s NOT a disorder! It’s simply a normal variation. And while it means we’re more easily overwhelmed by sensory input, it also means we’re more aware of subtleties in our environment and we process that information more deeply. So there is definitely a positive side to being highly sensitive.
If you think you or your child might be highly sensitive, take a quick test on the author’s website. Then pick up a copy of The Highly Sensitive Person, The Highly Sensitive Parent, or The Highly Sensitive Child.
You can also learn more about this by watching the documentary Sensitive: The Untold Story (currently free on Amazon Prime). This gives a good overview of what it’s like to be highly sensitive, but you’ll want to get one of Aron’s books to get the details.
Knowing that I’m highly sensitive helps me to be prepared. I bring my ear plugs when I think noise might be an issue. I don’t schedule more than one outing a day because it’s overwhelming. And—more importantly—I allow myself to have down time to decompress. This is the only way an HSP can stay sane!
And when it comes to my 2-year-old HSC (Highly Sensitive Child), I do the same things for him. I bring his headphones. I give him plenty of breaks. I encourage quiet time and nap time. When he’s ready to roughhouse or wants to go to the park for the second time that day, I let Robby take over. It’s their special time together.
One important thing to note, though, is that there’s a big difference between being sensitive and having a Sensory Processing Disorder, which is when the central nervous system misinterprets messages from the senses. Kids with SPD will often be over-responsive or under-responsive to touch, movement, sounds, sights, taste, or smell. Or they may crave sensations like spicy foods or perpetual movement. Or they may have poor sensory discrimination, unusually high or low activity level, or problems with posture or motor coordination.
To learn more about sensory issues, I recommend the book, The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. This is considered the bible of sensory issues. It’s dense but has lots of good examples to show how a neurotypical child would respond to a certain situation and how a child with sensory issues would respond. If you recognize your child in the book’s examples, highlight it and talk to your pediatrician about it. Seek help so your child can learn to integrate his senses so he’ll be able to participate in school and with friends in the way he longs to.
As an HSP, I know that the world can be an overwhelming place. That’s why I try to give my son Gordon some control over how much input he receives and am teaching him healthy ways to respond to stimulation. If we find a situation he can’t handle yet—because he’s only 2, after all!—then I take a step back. Usually, we can delay or cancel that activity. And maybe next time I can help him be more prepared. It’s way more important for Gordon to learn how to handle all the sensory input he’s receiving than it is for him to mimic what the other kids are doing.
Check out these resources and let me know your thoughts on sensory issues. Are you an HSP like me? Or do you have an HSC like mine? I’d love to hear from you!
(Disclaimer: This post contains links to books on Bookshop.org. I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase—so thank you!)
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