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.