What is High Sensitivity?

Understanding this minority temperament trait

High sensitivity is a minority temperament trait, present from birth and found in 15-20% of the population. Experienced by too many of us to be considered a “disorder”, but not enough of us to be well understood by the majority. It’s divided equally between males and females and biologists have discovered its existence in over 100 animal species. The trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy: being observant before reacting. The scientific term is Sensory Processing Sensitivity (as distinct from Sensory Processing Disorder).

A highly sensitive nervous system is wired to detect absolutely everything in the environment and react accordingly. These children notice MORE through all senses, including the emotional cues of others, process the information more thoroughly and deeply in the brain and more quickly in the spinal cord and therefore have stronger emotional reactions to these stimuli. The key word is MORE.

These biological differences cause six main difficulties for children

  1. Awareness of subtleties- “this food tastes too salty”, “the car smells” and “I don’t like it”.
  2. Being easily over aroused and overstimulated due to too much sensory input from their own thoughts and imagination, or from what is happening around them.
  3. Deep inner emotional reactions – high highs and really low lows.
  4. Awareness of other’s feelings – feeling unsafe around angry adults or feeling sad because someone else is sad.
  5. Caution before proceeding in new, possibly dangerous situations.
  6. Being different, attracts attention. This requires understanding and support from parents to ensure one’s child develops a positive sense of self, rather than a perception of “What’s wrong with me?”

These challenges present differently throughout the developmental stages of life and require very specific parenting strategies.

Parental understanding enables early intervention and support, avoidance of unnecessary “disorder” diagnosis and greater joy for parent and child alike.

Do you have a child who is…

  • Easily upset and overwhelmed?
  • Deeply hurt by what appear to be minor issues?
  • Reluctant to join in, i.e. kindergarten, swimming lessons or gymnastics lessons?
  • Complaining of subtleties, i.e. strong smells, textured food or loud noises?
  • Highly aware and concerned when others are sad?
  • Noticing EVERYTHING in the environment including subtle changes?
  • Needing to know details and plans?
  • Easily distressed when reprimanded?
  • Cautious when leaving your side?

Complete the child screening tool for an online assessment of your child’s temperament and gain a greater understanding of how they experience the world.