Highly sensitive children – our story

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but only recently had gotten around to writing it well enough to be a blog post.

I’ve been dealing with sensory issues for 7 years now in my girls. They presented themselves in various ways, but these are the major ones that had the most impact on our lives.

M – sensory seeking for touch/sensory avoiding for taste.

She started to have what I think was a sensory-seeking touch behavior (or could have turned into trichotillomania) for a quite a while. From the time she was about 18 months to about 4 years old she had pulled her hair out one strand at a time and played with the strand with her fingers while she sucked her thumb. Sometimes she placed the strand across her lips or in her mouth. It was disturbing for me as a mother to watch, but I learned that it was involuntary self-comforting behavior and it was something she *might* outgrow. But in the meantime, she was losing patches of her beautiful red hair. It broke my heart.

It took my vigilance, and my slow, patient, understanding and help to re-condition of her to choose a healthy alternative to her unconscious habit. I diverted her to a fuzzy knitted blanket when we were at home and she pulled the fuzzies out of that instead of her hair. When we were in the car, I gave her strands of my hair to play with (my hair tended to shed a lot).

But then I eventually saw that she would chew on the fuzzies she pulled out. Sometimes she ate them (accidentally or not I don’t know). I found them in her diaper at times.

Over the course of about 3 years, she finally stopped needing to pull her hair out. When she was about 5, she started up again, this time pulling CLUMPS of her hair out. I didn’t know why my baby did this. I had to go back to the vigilance again to re-direct her.

She also had extreme oral aversions to certain food. Any pungent, or simply flavorful foods or sauces she rejected, and meat like chicken or beef made her burst out in tears or gag when the food passed her lips (either the texture and/or the taste really bothered her). Knowing she wasn’t putting on an act (trust me, you can tell when it’s an act and when it’s more serious), I set out to help her. Again, slow, patient, introduction of offensive tastes had expanded her diet. Had I known about SPD therapies for oral aversions, I might have done things a bit differently, but instead, I simply took a slow desensitization route with the offensive material. In the meantime, to ensure a healthy protein intake, I made her pancakes with whey protein powder added, and fruit smoothies with yogurt and more protein powder. It took about
2 years, to expand her diet to include chicken and beef and about 5 years before she could actually enjoy a slice of cheese pizza. It made things really difficult when we ate a meal out of the home. For 2 years or so, we had to carry an emergency pb and j sandwich. Often we got funny looks for it in public, or downright criticism for it from family.

K, my touch/sound sensitive child.

I spent about 2 full years being her “lovey”. She would stroke my arm for hours while she sucked her thumb, or played with my moles (one of them on my arm was her particular favorite). Thankfully I didn’t mind being touched, so I never became “touched out” by her. In fact, I felt pretty good that I could be that comfort for her. She eventually outgrew the need for it. She also spent about 4.5 years hating to get water on her hands.

With sound, she was sensory avoiding. She often told me things were too loud. We had to avoid a lot of public places because the noise level was too much for her to bear. Sometimes even the tv or the sound of my voice if I raised it too high affected her. She’s much more tolerant now. We didn’t *do* anything to fix this, except for avoiding loud places and wait for her to hopefully outgrow it. Oddly enough, she has got the highest pitched voice of all of them, and often is too loud herself.

K’s over-sensitivities were so strong that it was the fundamental reason she was selectively mute. It was a maladaptive coping strategy for them. Her response to overwhelming stimuli caused her fight-freeze-flight mechanism (that should have been integrated during infancy and early childhood) to be stuck on freeze.

Many years ago, after researching about sensitivities in children, I came across this website about the Highly Sensitive Person. It was the first resource I had to help me understand my children’s behaviors. When I took the self-test, I scored a 24.

I can tell you as a highly sensitive parent of highly sensitive children, I find my experience to be particularly challenging – especially now that my youngest 4 is also going through some strong feelings lately (related to sensitive emotions). She’s always full-on crying lately over almost everything little thing. I wrote the post called Just Stop Already in direct response to my sensitivities being at an all-time high.

The upside to having high sensitivity is the beautiful richness of life it can bring. Life becomes so much more amazing when you can pick up on the subtleties of music, of art, of writings, of the expressions of human emotion. While my sensitivities have been running quite high lately, I have been able to capture the positive benefits of them in recent blog posts.

I hope, that if you are a parent of a highly sensitive child, or a highly sensitive person yourself, you might find some relief in knowing that

Their trait is not a flaw or a syndrome…It is an asset they can learn to use and protect.

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21 Responses to Highly sensitive children – our story

  1. Spacemom says:

    My oldest is sensitive. When I was as Girl Scout Camp Training, we were covering the topic of cooking. So many leaders said “oh, those kids are just picky. If they have no choice, they will eat it”

    I actually stood up for these kids. I brought up the SID information. I want people to know that my kid is not just picky. I want people to know that I can’t eat quiche because I gag on it. Not because I am picky.

    It is frustrating to see how many people don’t get it.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    If they have no choice, they would rather starve themselves.

    I’m glad you were able to stand up for the kids that have their unique sensitivities. I hope they will take that information and hope someone else down the line now that they know.

  3. Eve says:

    Your story about yourself being your daughters lovie sounds so much like my daughter! I had to laugh at it! She is constantly rubbing my arm (and she love my mole as well, it´s in the middle of my arm, and she scratches it until it bleeds sometimes.
    Unfortunately I hate being touched constantly 😦 We fight about that quite often.
    Otherwise: I love your blog, I think we are kind of similar souls ….

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Eve – I wonder how old your daughter is. I can’t say I’d love it if my daughter scratched my mole till it bled. Mine was a “flat” mole so she just rubbed her finger over it while she sucked her thumb.

    Mine is 5 now and too busy playing to need me as much.

    Thank you for replying. I’m glad you like it here.

    Big Hugs!

  5. Kristin says:

    Raising Smart Girls-
    I am also raising a HS daughter who for the last year has had major sleep and emotional issues. We are working through it with therapy but I am learning that we will always be challenged. For my own sanity, I have started writing a blog too (http://raisingmysensitivegirl.blogspot.com/)…I feel the need to connect with others who are working through the same struggles and it forces me to document some of the episodes we have.
    I am also sensitive but not at the level my daughter is. Your comments about fuzzies and sensory comforts is totally me!
    I work for a large corporation and still sometimes catch mysef rubbing the little hairs on my wrist across my lips…must be something I did at a child.
    I have so much to learn!

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Kristin – Welcome.

    I’m so glad you stopped by. I appreciate you saying hello and sharing a little bit about your story. I will be checking out your blog and adding it to my blogroll. I think it’s so helpful to be in touch with other moms who are struggling. I can say that we are through the worst of it (for now). I anticipate some difficulties as she grows and goes through different phases of her life (I’m thinking adolescence is going to strike her particularly hard, but we’ll see).

    I think I’ve been fortunate to find some wonderful resources out there and I’m grateful to be able to share with others the experience (and frustrations) of guiding our sensitive children into confident and secure individuals.

    I’m off to check out your blog now.

    🙂

  7. Kaspar says:

    I am in need of some advise, I have a daughter who is 6 that screams and cries at noises, the vacuume, lawn mower, motorcycle, helocopter, cricket, slushie maker at McDonalds etc., I am in desparate need to find a way to help her cope with these noises. She will cover her ears and scream.

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Hmm…

    first answer – small foam earplugs. cheap, easy to come by (I think hardware stores carry them). muffles the sound. I have heard of sound isolating earphones (placed in the ears) will cancel out the sounds…but you will be talking some big bucks.

    second answer – has she gotten evaluated by a sensory integration occupational therapist? I’m not sure what technique they would do…but they might do some listening therapy to help integrate sounds better?

    I did a quick check…they might do something like this

    http://www.vision-audio.com/

    Just a note…I am not promoting this website. I have no idea about them…I’m just giving you an idea to take to your pediatrician…and ask them to recommend a SPD therapist who can help with some kind of auditory integration program.

    Over time…my daughter’s hearing wasn’t as bad as it used to be. I think in general, when she got more SPD therapy at home, everything seemed to improve all around – she was integrating all of her senses…

    But she’s still a loud talker. It was recommended that we do some auditory therapy for her…but I declined at the time (mostly because of time/money constraints – she had a goofy school schedule). I might look back into that at the neuropsychologist I took her to see for her selective mutism because they do listening therapy. They once upon a time suggested we do it, but since I was seeing improvements in other areas, I delayed it. Might be a good time to try it. Thanks for jiggling my mind about it.

  9. Yeo says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience. My child is very sensitive with food and touch. She couldn’t wear socks and underwear with a little bitty of seams- I had to go out in search for seamless socks and underwear with the least bothering seams. She never wears blue jeans. She had hard time eating new food– yes, I got looks and downright criticism from my family too. Oh, and how it all felt like they were telling me I was raising her wrong.
    Fortunately, I was able to find time to do research on my child’s uniqueness last spring. And a Chinese herbal medicine expert (we call him a doctor where I come from) also acknowledged how my child is born with high sensitivity and that can mean she is very bright. I became a lot more understanding and confident speaking up for my child. Also, she has outgrown some of her oversensitivity. Still, I find it hard to bear that my child can get into trouble just for being herself in school and with friends.

  10. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Yeo –

    I am sorry your child can get into trouble for just being herself. I think that is something that happens when people don’t allow for individual differences. I do believe high sensitivities can indicate a bright child. A bright child usually has high sensitivities to something. It’s part of the unique package that makes them so aware of the world around them.

    I know about those seems, and the tags too!!! My youngest wasn’t bothered so much when she was younger, but also started complaining about them not too long ago.

    And then there’s even times when I get uncomfortable in my clothes too, so how can I really blame the child for having issues?

    Thanks for sharing your experience too.

    I’m glad to be able to help make others feel less alone.

  11. Renee says:

    I’m starting to believe my son has some “highly Sensitive” qualities. I know for ME. I have odd emotions, ex. I was watching my niece a cute little 3 year old in a gymnasium out on stage with all her adorable little cheer leading team mates. It was so emotional for me to watch the most beautiful and proud sight. Watching them dance there hearts out. Here I am crying! I’M CRYING! A good cry, but no one else is. Everyone’s smiling away. Loud noises seem to touch some kind of heartstrings for me also. Now about my 4 year old… I noticed he gets very vocal about his anger. I also noticed during his soccer games he likes to be a part of the team, I can actually feel what his big smiling face is saying to himself. And I just love his happiness. It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing, right here, right now. When the coach blows the whisle he covers his ears and makes strange faces until the crowd passes him. He does not want to be in the mele where the ball is. He does not want to be agressive period. The coach rolls the ball in front of him. He will not kick it, because he knows the crowd will be coming for him. He actually has forthought. He does not want to be the goale, because there all coming for him. My son is right as rain blazing his own path behind everyone with a smile a mile long. He will not push back when someone pushes him. It burns me up! He will not sing with all that god gave him, he’s very reserved about it. I started doing 5K marathons to let him see mom’s braveness. Was a tough thing for me as well and a great new adventure. I asked if he wanted to join karate, figuring this my get some needed confidence? I don’t know. But forget it. He firmly says NO. I tried saying “Sponge Bob loves Ka-Ra-Tay”. “You don’t want to try it?” “NO” He really is highly sensitive, I think. My husband thinks I yelled at him and did something to him emotionally. Of course blame the mama. When people would say “oh, he looks just like daddy.” which really is the truth. I would say “I know, but that’s okay I’m on the inside.” I really think I am.

  12. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Renee –

    I hear you on the tears for overwhelming happy moments…even for OTHER children. Lots of things like that pull on my heartstrings too.

    Of course the mama gets blamed. That’s an OLD concept from way back. It used to be that doctors blamed the mama for being emotionally cold with their autistic children and that’s what ’caused’ autism. We know better now.

    You can’t ’cause’ sensitivity, though it’s my unofficial opinion that modern hospital birth interventions can contribute to sensitivities. But sensitivity is part of the neurobiology of the brain. There’s things that can be done to help the brain develop better coping strategies, but it’s not caused by being yelled at. However, yelling at the sensitive child will certainly not help matters.

    There’s no “blame” to be had, even though genetically speaking, we might inherit sensitivity from one parent or the other. 1 out of 20 people are highly sensitive. And the thing of it is, these sensitivities would actually be beneficial to survival if we had to go back to living off the land and live by our instincts. Someone with sensitive hearing would be the first to detect danger. Unfortunately, we don’t need to live by our instincts anymore, so these skills are deemed useless.

    What ends up happening those is the 19 out of 20 who are not highly sensitive don’t understand or want to put up with the 1. Our society lacks empathy for sensitive people and PARTICULARLY for sensitive boys, as it is seen as a weakness. And social conditioning in our “every man for himself” society makes this sensitivity in boys a thing to be extinguished. But I can tell you, if a child is forced to mask his or her true nature, it won’t truly ‘go away’. It will only go underground and it will leave the child to live in denial of his or her true feelings and it will create confusion and insecurity as they try to put forth a ‘good front’.

    As far as your 4 year old and his sensory issues go. Most likely, as his nervous system matures, he will outgrow some of his noise sensitivities. But, for a young child who has known sensitivities, it might be better to switch out of team sports until that happens. Or you could try switching to another team sport that doesn’t have all the kids charging at him…like t-ball. I think by 5.5 or 6, my daughter could tolerate a lot more noise than she could at 4.

    But your son is 4…he’s got a long time to develop confidence. The best way to do that is by letting him choose activities HE enjoys and help him to identify his feelings…no matter what they are. There’s a saying I try to keep in mind, “Happy is not the only acceptable emotion.” He will grow in confidence when he feels in control of some of his choices.

    Best wishes,

    Casey

    • Bernadette Littlewood says:

      Just a thought, in stead of team games maybe swimming. My sensory OE boy loves it and spends so much time under water. I guess it mutes things for a while and gives his brain some peace.

      • raisingsmartgirls says:

        That reminds me, I used to love floating on my back in the water as a kid for that reason. It was wonderful….

        I wonder how Renee’s boy is faring now that 3 years have passed.

  13. Pam says:

    Dear Casey – why didn’t I stumble upon your blog earlier? I would not have felt so alone in my struggles.

    We don’t have as much access to experts to do analysis in our country as you do in yours. So I dont know if my daughter who is turning 6 in a couple of months would have been diagnosed with any of those behavioural challenges like SM, AS, or HSC. But one thing I do know is that she’s highly sensitive to sound, environment (esp new ones), people and crowds, clothes, food and hair among other things. Her SM is not very stark although she does struggle with speaking up in front of others (depending on what the topic is about).

    Up to the time when she was about 4, she was poking (rather, tapping on my eyelids) as she sucked her thumb and slept. It was unhealthy and I never realised it posed a bigger problem than just a bad habit. I got her to quit when she was old enough to understand the difference between a good and bad habit.

    She wants to ride a bicycle but we can’t let her because she just refuses to put on a helmet. A simple bicycle outing can quickly end in a meltdown because of this helmet issue. For the same resason she refuses to allow anyone but me to cut her hair.

    She has been going to school since she was 2 and a half. So school setting is familiar to her and does not pose a problem. But any other activities outside of school or outside school hours – I can pretty much forget it because she would be wailing for hours begging me not to send her there. Things were not so bad when she was much younger, say up to 2. It started to surface around the time she was close to 3.

    I still have many struggles. Many of which I have not much success with.

    I have some questions :
    1. Applying 2 different approaches to 2 difference children – will my DD2 who is not a HSC resent my treatment when she sees me taking the softer approach with extended / elaborated reasoning with my DD1?

    2. When DD1 starts becoming wilful (she’s a strong willed HSC, which makes it doubly hard for me as a parent) what is the best disciplinary action against her? Take an example – she starts to take her own sweet time to get ready for school. That is a problem that has to be fixed whether HSC or otherwise. Or when she starts fighting with her younger sister. Or the helmet issue. What can we do to get better success at these power struggles?

    Thank you so much for your time. And you’re an amazing mom!
    Pam

  14. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Pam –

    Thank you so much for the kind words! I really appreciate it.

    I feel for you. I really do. The struggles you talk about bring me back to the early days of parenting. Trust me, it was hard. I cried a lot. I felt a lot like a failure at times.

    I don’t think you have to parent your children vastly differently.

    I found this website I’m going to peruse a little more because there are some great articles on empathetic parenting.

    http://www.empathic-parenting.com/index_articles.htm

    There’s some great ideas on making things fun for kids, on alternatives to punishment, and respectful discipline tools. I think you’ll find some great ideas there, for BOTH of your children.

    To help with sibling jealousy, try to do something special once a week for the younger sister that is just for her. It can be taking her out on a ‘mommy and me’ date, or just a special one-on-one time doing art, reading or making up stories, or playing dress-up together. Something she gets that the other one doesn’t get. It helps.

    Some things for safety, like the bicycle helmet, may be not negotiable. I don’t know how to make that any easier for her. You probably should stick to your guns on that one. Here’s a few ideas on how to get your child to wear a helmet.

    http://www.helmets.org/kidswear.pdf

    Good Luck!

    Casey

  15. gig says:

    I’m devastated with my Child and trying to cope. He cries at the littlest stimulus like if he has a cuticle or bumps his heel on a foot of a bed. When I say its no big deal he cries even more and starts throwing shoes at me saying that I’m insulting him. I feel alienated. I feel like I’m losing him. I really hope that there’s help out there becausevits so so hard!!!!

  16. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Gig,

    We’ve been there too. Try putting yourself in HIS shoes. To your son, it IS a big deal. Maybe for the few moments to take to empathize with him, you’ll avoid the UNneccessary tantrums. Sometimes, my middle child (now 8) still needs to throw one now and then. But if I can scoop her up in my arms, listen to her tell me what’s wrong, and let her know I care how she feels, it helps.

    Let your son know you understand that he’s hurt/frustrated/angry. Help him label his feelings that way he can learn to articulate what’s going on. The tears are just to discharge the frustration a little.

    Try that for a while and see how it works. It won’t work for everything, but for a lot of the minor stuff, it will help.

  17. Laura Nealon says:

    I’ve been able to read a few or your blogs and some of the responses and in so many of these stories I see my daughter. I started researching because of a complete over reaction to disappointing news. I’ve often felt there was something not wrong, but different about her and she has always been a handful. The stories about the clothing, the food, the emotions… it’s all her. Wish I had seen this years ago. Hope I can find more current blogs or support groups.

  18. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Laura –

    I’m glad you found this place. I wish there was something like it years ago too. There wasn’t. So I started my own place. 🙂

    I was just reminded that there is a yahoo group for Elain Aren’s Highly Sensitive Child Book. You can join it fairly easily, I think.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hscbook/

    It’s still pretty active. You can get lots more great ideas and supports from parents in the trenches with their HSCs.

    I’ll be back to a more regular posting schedule. I’ve just had a few personal issues to take care of so I retreated from posting for a while to re-group and re-assess where I want to go from here. Being an HSC too, I realized I needed time to refresh and re-organize things in my life.

    Best wishes.

    Casey

  19. Amy K says:

    I’ve started wonder if my daughter (recently turned two) is dealing with high sensitivity:
    -eating issues
    -brushing hair and teeth, and cutting nails all cause a meltdown
    -random diaper change meltdowns when she was just fine
    -doesn’t like to touch stuff/get messy (but loves water)
    -after reading this, and the comments, I’ll add constantly pulls on our and her ears (but refuses any kind of lovey)

    Unfortunately, she is also speech delayed, so she can’t tell me what is going on. On top of all of this, her dad and grandparents think I am overreacting, and that everything is just a normal toddler phase. Any input? Am I jumping the gun?

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