If you want to learn more about homeopathy, the Hahnemann Center for Heilkunst offers a free downloadable course for those who wish to know more about Heilkunst/Homeopathy and how to apply it to first-aid and basic emergency situations.
I have a sensory seeker, which means I have a kid who loves to move and groove. She loves to jump, swing, run, body check me, be squeezed–anything that provides input to her body, she craves. When she was a toddler, she would run around the house clutching an object in each hand and hum a very low guttural hum. It took me quite some time to realize that she did that because the vibration she could feel in her chest from that particular tone felt good to her.
After experiencing depression while training to become a physician, I developed an interest in happiness and have studied, and taught, ways to create positivity and joy.A study published in Psychological Science in 2008 found that certain inherited genes seem to account for 50 percent of our happiness. But even if your natural tendency is to be more down than up, you can make choices that will help you experience a brighter, happier life.Hormones and neurotransmitters moderate our feelings of well-being, and lifestyle factors affect them. Here are five of the main hormones and neurotransmitters, plus ways to boost them. However, if you feel consistently unhappy, see your doctor.
For my children to thrive, I had to accept that life must be handled. Yet, I did not have the knowledge or tools to help my children. I chose to undertake a process of deep change, deciding to de-learn many things I had been taught about emotional, empathy, social, chemical, sensorial, physical, intellectual ways of being.
The differences between highly sensitive people and the rest of the population is much more than skin deep. The deep sensing that HSP experience means that they define their senses of self differently and as a consequence think differently.
I began a slow process of change in my life that incorporated sensory processing in my health. Slowly, as I nourished my own sensitivities, instead of trying to “overcome them”, I began to experience the world very differently.
It is crucial to help our children become who they are, when we ignore these gifts and consider them as part of a disease, we are condemning them to a life of mental ills that could be avoided. In the book “when the body says no. The hidden cost of stress”, Dr. Gabor Maté makes the case for help children through empathy and nurturing parenting:
“ In rhesus monkeys about 20% are “high reactors”, who are more likely than others to exhibit depressive behaviours on separation from mother, along with greater and longer activation of the HPA axis, exaggerated sympathetic nervous system arousal and deeper suppression of immune activity. In human terms, we might call the high reactors temperamentally hypersensitive. Not unlike their human counter parts, they tend to end up at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Their offspring resemble them in behaviors, reactivity and social status.
Research has revealed that the “constitutional high-reactors destiny can be interrupted by changing the environment. “ The positive changes are passed on to future generations: “ When reared with especially nurturing mothers, such animals show no signs of the usual behavioral disorder. Instead they show signs of precocious behavioral development and rose to the top of the hierarchy as adults.”[i]
Part of the nurturing of children’s senses is to become aware of what can be toxic to them. When I began this journey, it was very difficult to find relevant information and help when dealing with how to ease symptoms caused by high level of toxicity, how to help a child (or adult) heal when traditional medicine is not an option, understanding the hidden codes of sensory languages, helping children decode their moods and sensory signals, and learning to use them to their advantage instead of being overwhelmed by them.
The first step for me has been to learn how to deeply listen to myself and to my children. To act from a place of deep understanding and empathy.
<< Back to HSP Next to DIY HSP well-being
[i] Maté, Gabor (2003). When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress. Toronto: Vintage Canada.
According to Wikipedia:
“ A highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high sensory processing sensitivity (or innate sensitiveness as Carl Jung originally coined it[i],[ii]). According to Elaine N. Aron and colleagues as well as other researchers, highly sensitive people, who comprise about a fifth of the population (equal numbers in men and women), may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems.[iii] This is a specific trait, with key consequences for how we view people, that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, social anxiety problems, inhibitedness, social phobia and innate fearfulness,[iv],[v] and introversion.[vi] (…) Although the term is primarily used to describe humans, something similar to the trait is present in over 100 other species.[vii] [viii]
The discovery of this highly sensitive trait changed our lives. It helped me to understand that heightened sensory processing is not necessarily a disorder but that some of us possess a deep sensory sensitivity, a gift that should be fostered, not eliminated, since it helps us perceive the world in much more nuanced details than most . I began to research the world of sensory processing and HSPs. I decided not to ignore or “cure” our sensitivity but to celebrate them and to help my children develop these incredible qualities to their fullest.
What does it mean to be highly sensitive?
According to blogger Victoria Erikson, highly sensitive people sense life deeper than others. They are emotional chameleons who soak up other people’s moods and desires like sponges. They are deeply alive, experience sensations vividly and are moved to tears by the beauty in simple thing: the beauty of a flower, a subtle shift in the environment, the riff of a song, a scent, a taste, etc.
Of course, all are fragile, but highly sensitive are more easily stimulated due to they nervous system. As blogger Victoria Erikson, a highly sensitive person, explains, highly sensitive people:
“have the ability to see colors and feel energy the way others hear jet planes. The world takes on a rich tapestry of immense gorgeousness at almost every turn, which then fuels your imagination and makes you spin with aliveness. And aliveness is a grand thing.
“Aliveness is energy. It’s the juice, the vitality, and the passion that wakes up our cells every morning. It’s what makes us want to dance. It’s the energy that moves a relationship from the status quo to something grander and much more expansive, something that makes our hearts beat faster, our minds and our eyes open wider, than ever before. Everything is of interest to a person who is truly alive, whether it’s a challenge, a loving moment, a bucket of grief, or a glimpse of beauty.” ~ Daphne Rose Kingma
Yet, it also means that much like the spirited and hot blooded Arabians in the horse world, your alertness and reactivity may easily cause you to shy away with fright at things that shouldn’t be so scary.
Since your nervous system responds so easily to stimuli, that it can often times be overwhelming and exhausting to be so flooded with sensation—which makes you prone to bolting from uncomfortable situations, relationships, and jobs.
And sometimes your sensitivity makes life extraordinarily painful, and you want to shut down and hide your raw self from the loud chaos that accompanies this earth’s continual rotation.
Continually swimming in an endless sea of sensation can at times be exhausting, regardless if it’s beautifully terrible or terribly beautiful, and this is why your deep-rooted need for peace and self care is essential to support your superb sensitivity. ”[ix]
Deciding to understand sensory processing issues from this perspective allows for an optimistic approach to helping children. It allows to see them as people with special gifts that need to be nurtured instead of oppressed.
As the HSP researcher Dr. Elaine Aron mentions in her book the highly sensitive child, parenting a Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) brings many joys. My children do deeply appreciate me, they have made me much more aware of everything and making me see and question life in new ways. We connect on very deep levels. Their empathy and reaction to me have forced me to be much more aware of myself and to find the way to heal myself of many toxic ways in order to help them find inner peace.
As a parent I have had to learn that their discomfort in our man-made world is natural and that my role is to help them discover how to integrate in social settings while respecting their uniqueness and differences. According to the blog, HSP Health, their sensory processing sensitivities mean that often HSC get the sense at a young age that they are different. They don’t fit in. They are not interested in the same things that other people are interested in. They are not motivated in the same way. This profound sense of being different is not temporary. It does not go away, and can cause pain when the sensitive’s differentness is treated badly by family, peers, and early authority figures.
The HSP Heath blog provides a list of reasons, as to why the highly sensitive person will get the message that they are different, which resonates with my family. Amongst them, are many sensory related issues:
- Physical sensitivities like loud sounds, too much noise, light and tactile or touch sensitivity may cause discomfort or pain, which is not necessarily true of non-HSP’s.
- A highly sensitive person often needs time to themselves to rest after interacting with others. Non-HSP’s often recharge with other people.
- Social interaction can be draining unless it is for a short time, with a few people in a quiet setting. Non-HSP’s are more comfortable with big noisy social engagements.
- The highly sensitive person hates small talk, something that non-HSP’s thrive on competition and the highly sensitive person are like oil and water. Non-HSP’s are more comfortable with competition.
- Highly sensitive people are sensitive to the feelings of others and have a tendency to absorb the feelings of others causing much discomfort and unhappiness.
- HSP’s are known for their empathy. Empathy in sensitives is more than a feeling for others – it is an active way of knowing the world.
- HSP’s often feel a deep connection with nature and all the creatures in it.
- Highly sensitive people can be deeply spiritual.
- Many HSP’s will have physical conditions and allergies of one form or another.
- HSP’s can form deep bonds with animals.
- Harm and abuse of all kinds are harder for highly sensitive people to heal.
Seeing my children from this lens made me realize that their future depends on them becoming self-aware of these specificities and to be able to self-regulate their own reaction without fear or feeling somehow inadequate. I began to understand that in order to help them become healthy active participants in the world, I needed to guide them in a process of sensorial self-discovery, leading by example.
<< Back to Our Story Next to Nurturing Sensitivities>>
[i] Jung, C. (1913). ‘The theory of psychoanalysis’. CW 4. And
______ (1916). ‘Psychoanalysis and neurosis’. CW 4.
[ii] Aron, E.N. (2006). “The Clinical Implications of Jungs Concept of Sensitiveness”. Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice 8: 11–43.
[iii] Ketay, S., Hedden, T., Aron, A., Aron, E., Markus, H., & Gabrieli, G. (2007, January). The personality/temperament trait of high sensitivity: fMRI evidence for independence of cultural context in attentional processing. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Memphis, TN. Summary by Aron (2006): “A functional study comparing brain activation in Asians recently arrived in the United States to European-Americans found that in the nonsensitive, different areas were activated according to culture during a difficult discrimination task known to be affected by culture, but culture had no impact on the activated areas for highly sensitive subjects, as if they were able to view the stimuli without cultural influence.”
[iv] Brodt, S.; Zimbardo, P. (1981). “Modifying Shyness-Related Social Behavior Through Symptom Misattribution”. Journal of Personality and Society Psychology 41 (3): 437–49. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.527
[vi] a b c Aron, Elaine and Aron, Arthur. 1997. Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and its Relation to Introversion and Emotionality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Aug. 1997 Vol. 73, No. 2, pp. 345–368. (WebCite archive).
[vii] Wolf, M., Van Doorn, S., & Weissing, F. J. (2008). Evolutionary emergence of responsive and unresponsive personalities. PNAS, 105(41), 15825-15830.
[viii] While many animals are sensitive to specific stimuli, it seems that others demonstrate a broader sensitivity, plasticity, or flexibility. For example, Sih and Bell (2008) wrote that enough examples exist “to suggest that individual difference in environmental and social sensitivity is common, potentially quite important, and worthy of further study” (p. 16). Dingemanse and colleagues (2009) provide an integrative model for observing personality traits (e.g., shy, bold, aggressive, nonaggressive) that in some species or individuals are inflexible and completely specific to context but in other cases are flexible, occurring in some contexts and not in others, according to its usefulness, so that the underlying trait in these cases would be being sensitive enough to know when to be sensitive—suggesting layers of processing.
I have come to realize through my own family experiences that there is a way to help these children thrive, but it requires us to understand and address these children’s sensorial needs as positive and fundamental traits that are part of a healthy life. This is hard work and unfortunately, it means to go against the mainstream ideas given that the senses are not recognized as essential to health in our western disembodied culture that worships the mind at the expenses of the senses in how we perceive the world.
My journey in the world of sensory health began with the birth of my children. My first-born always refused to be cuddled. It was clear that touching was a painful experience for him. He was highly sensitive to my milk, I had to eliminate many foods. He was a happy baby but when time came to out him into daycare, I noticed his was different. He would nurture other children who were struggling in the daycare setting, but after a few days of adjustment to this new environment, he began to have nightmares. It was clear his reactions to the stress were more intense than other children. As I was pregnant with my second child, I kept him home. The nightmares stopped immediately.
My second child was even more sensitive to food, sound and environmental elements. Our lives became very stressful, having to relearn how to cook for a child who kept on reacting to most things in our environment constantly. As I went back to work, the stress level of our family increased and my child’s sensitivities increased as well.
I found myself seeking solutions and answers to the difficulties my children were facing. Yet, the medical community fell short of being able to help us. Sensitivities are not easy to diagnosed, and often considered to not be a real condition. Our pediatrician and my partner thought I was an overprotective mother who did not know how control her children’s behaviors in an effective way. They were reacting like the majority of society, considering that sensory processing is not a condition and that parenting is at the source of these “out of control” behaviors.
Thankfully, today, researchers are beginning to prove that it does exist and in part emerges out of real differences in the brain. For instance, in a study at UCSF, researchers used an advanced form of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to get information about the brain’s white matter tracts. The brain’s white matter is essential for perceiving, thinking and learning. The researchers found that an abnormal white matter tracts in the SPD subjects, primarily involving areas in the back of the brain, that serve as connections for the auditory, visual and somatosensory (tactile) systems involved in sensory processing, including their connections between the left and right halves of the brain:
““These are tracts that are emblematic of someone with problems with sensory processing,” said Mukherjee. “More frontal anterior white matter tracts are typically involved in children with only ADHD or autistic spectrum disorders. The abnormalities we found are focused in a different region of the brain, indicating SPD may be neuroanatomically distinct.” [i]
The researchers found a strong correlation between the micro-structural abnormalities in the white matter of the posterior cerebral tracts focused on sensory processing and the auditory, multisensory and inattention scores reported by parents in the Sensory Profile. The strongest correlation was for auditory processing, with other correlations observed for multi-sensory integration, vision, tactile and inattention.
The abnormal microstructure of sensory white matter tracts shown by DTI in kids with SPD likely alters the timing of sensory transmission so that processing of sensory stimuli and integrating information across multiple senses becomes difficult or impossible.
“We are just at the beginning, because people didn’t believe this existed,” said Marco. “This is absolutely the first structural imaging comparison of kids with research diagnosed sensory processing disorder and typically developing kids. It shows it is a brain-based disorder and gives us a way to evaluate them in clinic.”[i]
Researchers are working towards helping us understand how sensory processing affect children, I knew from our life experiences that the behaviors associated with sensory over or under load could be regulated.
I observed that my children’s “acting out” was a reaction to specific type of people, usually anxious, as much as to specific types of environment. They are what I now understand to be empathic. In other words, they are deeply sensitive to other people’s moods, an anxious person would make my eldest son act out of control immediately. Of course my anxieties made him react too.
During a medical checkup, my son’s out of control behavior intrigued the doctor who decided we should evaluate him for autism. So I did.
The team who evaluated him had a hard time deciding on a diagnostic, as his issues were very slight, but they did in the end evaluate him as having the Asperger syndrome. As suggested by the evaluation team, I also got diagnosed and eventually labeled as also having slight Asperger tendencies. Through this process, the psychologist who diagnosed me introduced me to the Highly Sensitive Person personality trait and it immediately resonated with issues we were facing. It made me realize why both me and my son were considered “borderline” Asperger cases.
My second child was diagnosed as ADHD. He resembles his father in terms of sensory processing issues. He is at peace in nature but is overwhelmed by crowds and noise. He has an incredible ability to pick up subtlety in the environment and in people but can not focus on tasks that do not engage him.
While at first look my two sons seem very different, I actually find them to be very similar in their sensory approach. Both are highly sensitive but one is an introvert and the other one an extrovert. One gets overstimulated while the other is often understimulated. The sensory similarities between them made me wonder about the role of the senses in our lives. Through trying to help my children thrive I began an incredible journey into the world of highly sensitive people and sensory processing. The more I researched the subject, the more I realized how lost our western world has become and how much our culture is hurting highly sensitive children. Hurting them with sensory illiterate environments, assumptions of disease and stigma.
[i] Bunim, Juliana (2013). Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids, University of California San Francisco, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi
The highly sensitive family: How to thrive in a toxic world.
To my children, my greatest teachers.
If you are reading this, you are probably looking for information to help a child who does not “fit” in or is out of synch. A child that is different, and who modern doctors do not know how to help. You may be faced with a diagnosis of ADHD or autism, and feel that these diagnoses somehow do not correspond to what your child is experiencing because you have noticed that your child’s behavior changes for the better when he or she is in a “safe”, quieter environment. If that is the case, you may likely have a child with sensory processing disorder (SPD) or what is referred to, in the more positive light of highly sensitive people, as sensory processing sensitivities. If that is the case have hope, you are not alone.
I am the parent of two children who have and still experience behavioral and emotional issues related to heightened sensory processing capacities and I when we began out journey in the world of sensory processing, I found very little help from the medical community. I turned to the Internet and sensory processing communities for answers. As a result I began this blog to collect the material I found.
What is Heightened Sensory Processing?
Heightened sensory processing refers to different response than normal stimuli from the environment. It can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or movement–or affect multiple senses. Sensory processing disorder is key not only to autism but as I found out ADHD, giftedness and many learning disabilities.
Children with different sensory processing are often misdiagnosed as having ADHD or autism since their sensory overload or under-load can translate into behaviors that are difficult to manage in a variety of social settings such as the classroom, home or new environments. Children affected by sensory processing issues behave differently because they are experiencing sensory and social stress.
While few of us have heard of this phenomenon, it is a wide spread phenomena. In the article “Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids”, it is explained that:
“ Sensory processing disorders are more prevalent in children than autism and as common as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, yet the condition receives far less attention partly because it’s never been recognized as a distinct disease.
Children with SPD struggle with how to process stimulation, which can cause a wide range of symptoms including hypersensitivity to sound, sight and touch, poor fine motor skills and easy distractibility. Some SPD children cannot tolerate the sound of a vacuum, while others can’t hold a pencil or struggle with social interaction. Furthermore, a sound that one day is an irritant can the next day be sought out. The disease can be baffling for parents and has been a source of much controversy for clinicians, according to the researchers.”[i]
Sensory processing differences are very real, and as many other cultures have understood for millennia, represent a distinct form of intelligence. It is important to understand that the differences in perceptions of these children do not stop at physical senses, they also understanding social life differently as they tend to possess heighted empathy.
But the world of children with heightened sensory processing abilities is difficult to deal with as we live in a time of great doubt in regards to SPD. First, the medical community denies its existence, researchers such as those from the University of California San Francisco, have recently confirmed that it is real but also began to pin point its affect on the brain (UCSF, 2013). In this process, they have established that it affects a different part of the brain than Autism and ADHD.
As MD Elysa Marco explains, most people don’t know how to support these kids because they don’t fall into a traditional clinical medical group:
“Sometimes they are called the ‘out of sync’ kids. Their language is good, but they seem to have trouble with just about everything else, especially emotional regulation and distraction. In the real world, they’re just less able to process information efficiently, and they get left out and bullied”.[ii]
Another difficulty is that there is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing, and, as is explained in the article “Decoding Sensory Processing Disorder”, many different diagnoses fall under the phrase sensory processing disorder. Among them are three specific subcategories:
“Sensory Over-responsivity: In this category, children respond very strongly to minimal stimuli. They often avoid touching or being touched. They often react strongly to certain textures of clothing or food. In addition, they will get overexcited with too much to look at or with strong smells or sound.
Sensory Under-responsivity: In contrast to children who are over-responsive, children with this form of SPD often pay little or no attention to the sensory experiences around them. They are unaware of messy hands, face, or clothes. They will also fail to notice how things feel and will often drop them. When presented with new stimuli, they will ignore them – even if a food is extra spicy or a noise is particularly loud.
Sensory Seeking: Children who are sensory seeking are exactly that – always looking for new sensations. They dump toys and rummage purposelessly, chew on shirt cuffs, and rub against walls. They welcome loud noises, seek strong odors, and prefer spicy or hot foods.
While children who fall into the categories described above exhibit widely (and sometimes opposite characteristics), they are all classified as possessing a sensory processing disorder. It’s often confusing!”[iii]
These characteristics can correspond to behaviors often associated with Autism and/or ADHD, yet, if the sensory processing issues are addressed and the children learn to be aware of their differences, they can learn to self-regulate and stop behaving in peculiar ways.
[i] Bunim, Juliana (2013). Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids, University of California San Francisco, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi
[ii] Bunim, Juliana (2013). Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids, University of California San Francisco, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi
Children who skip main meals are more likely to have excess body fat and an increased cardiometabolic risk already at the age of 6 to 8 years, according to a study. A higher consumption of sugary drinks, red meat and low-fat margarine and a lower consumption of vegetable oil are also related to a higher cardiometabolic risk. “The more of these factors are present, the higher the risk,” says a researcher.
Delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord in newborns by two minutes leads to a better development of the baby during the first days of life, research shows. The study reveals that the time in cutting the umbilical cord (also called umbilical cord clampling) influences the resistance to oxidative stress in newborns.