The Power of Authority

When someone you love is sick, the doctor is the one with the perceived power to cure. When someone you love is struggling in school, the teacher is the one with the perceived power to make a difference.

Whether it is the emergency room staff or the IEP team, the ones ‘in charge’ have the power to access, to diagnose, to report and to offer suggestions for moving forward. This leaves the subject and their family in a vulnerable place. Trust is placed in the hands of the professionals. It is an awesome responsibility.

As an child development specialist and as a lay person I have been on both sides of this type of scenario and my recent trip to the vet emergency clinic in the middle of the night reminded me of how it feels to be the ‘parent.’

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Supporting Parents of Highly Sensitive Children

One of the greatest challenges of parenting a Highly Sensitive child is to soothe our own angst and worry. A concern that is often voiced by these parents is not feeling confident in dealing with the daily challenges that confront kids who seem to feel everything in ‘overdrive.’

Supporting these families begins with a two-step approach.  The first is to help parents become more conscious of their own emotions so they can approach solutions from a place of calm and trust. An adult who is dis-regulated cannot authentically help a child in need. Yikes! This means we actually have to work on ourselves. Most parents (and teachers) would rather give advice than look at our own ‘stuff!’ 

The second is for adults to gain the skills that actually help a highly sensitive child feel safe in a world that often becomes ‘too much.’ While building this competency is not hard, it takes willingness and patience because it is a process— like learning how to become a fine artist. It can be tricky and messy…  and worth every imperfect moment!

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The Benefits and Detriments of Labels

When children display behaviors that limit their ability to keep up in typical American classrooms they are often recommended for special testing. In a desire to figure out what holds them back from successfully completing tasks and appropriately handling emotions we have developed a litany of labels. The labels that have been created to describe these challenges can be both beneficial and detrimental depending on how they are used.

This is a call to be more conscious in the way we label and describe children. When labels are used with compassion and wisdom they can be used to create an individualized plan of cooperation between home and school, enabling a child to thrive in their unique way. Unfortunately they often create fear and distrust. When used with intellectual reasoning alone, the soul and psyche of the children may be forgotten and while the youngsters receive extra cognitive attention their inner worlds are left unattended. Many of these kids struggle not only with their original challenge but secondary layers of self-doubt and shame as well. We must always consider the whole child, not just the isolated ‘disability.’

Labels are a starting point, merely an entry into a portal of a complex inner world. As we offer tools to increase skills we want to be sure a child does not identify his sense of self by his deficit. It is vital to remind parents and teachers not to use the ‘special need’ as the overriding way we see and talk about these kids.

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Sensory Processing Sensitivity, Sensory Processing Disorder or Both?

Picture it. A four-year-old is all dolled up in a in a lacy dress and matching gloves, holding a basket of flowers and ready to sprinkle petals as her aunt prepares to walk down the aisle. As her turn approaches the little one begins to whine, “I don’t want to go.”  She pulls off the itchy gloves and the tears start to flow… A tantrum is underway as she shrieks, “Take the dress off me! It’s too scratchy!!! No I don’t want to throw the flowers and you can’t make me!!!”


Let’s break down some of the reasons this child may be having such a BIG reaction… she may have Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). There is the possibility that she has both SPS and SPD (SPSD.) In addition, she may be acting in response to family stress, the lack of preparation for the event or a sudden overwhelming anxiety caused by a combination of the above factors.  

Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) and Highly Sensitive People (HSP) ‘have’ Sensory Processing Sensitivity. This term speaks to a trait that 15-20% of the population experience, whereby a heavy volume of sensory information bombards their nervous system, often causing over-stimulation. When this happens to a child they can become dis-regulated and need help processing their thoughts, emotions and behavior.

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