I started this blog to connect with other parents raising quirky kids, so I’m always pleased to hear from you. A kindred spirit recently asked this great question:
‘How do I know if my child 1) is highly sensitive, or 2) has a sensory processing disorder, or 3) is gifted, or 4) has some of the OEs? How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed? I have had to work through a lot of issues with my child(ren). Sometimes want to completely throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult even while we have some extra-special times too. The problem is I know public school would not do better for them than what I can currently provide. I am also a sensitive mama and get really overwhelmed or akin to triggered by some of the meltdowns that can happen. How do I determine which of these different ways of thinking applies to my child? I can glean ways of interacting with and support them, but I do know there is occupational therapy and other supports available for 2e kids or those with SPD. What would you recommend? Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and whatever advice you can give.’
Let me start out by saying I’m not a professional in child development, just a mum of two differently-wired children. I hope that by sharing my experience I can help you navigate the sometimes confusing abundance of information out there.
(1) Highly sensitive
I read Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Persons when my children were about 6 and 7. While much of it resonated, we had a lot going on that high sensitivity didn’t explain. HSP didn’t address the intense energy, incessant questions, intense drive and the (sometimes aggressive) competitiveness we were dealing with, for instance.
(2) Sensory processing disorder
When my son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at age 8 I felt so relieved to finally have an explanation for what was going on. At last I had a way to explain his unusual behaviour to friends, family and teachers (or so I thought)!
However, after a year of occupational therapy there was no change in my son’s behaviour. During a football course run by the OTs I noticed how different Jasper was from all the other kids who had sensory issues. I realised that there must be something else going on besides SPD.
(3) Overexcitabilities (OEs)
A couple of years later the words, ‘Intense? Sensitive? Easily overwhelmed? Reacts out of proportion?’ jumped out at me from a flyer. They led me to a PowerWood workshop, where I learned about the innate personality traits known as overexcitabilities.
As I listened to the characteristics and challenges of emotional, imaginational, sensual, intellectual and psychomotor OE, I wept with relief. Finally someone understood. THIS was what was going on with my son! And not just him, but also my daughter and myself, too.
At the OEs workshop I discovered that there’s a lot of overlap between OEs and giftedness. Not everyone with OEs has a high IQ, and not everyone with a high IQ has OEs. But the high degree of co-morbidity means the gifted community provides invaluable resources to support families dealing with OEs.
‘How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed?’
I’m guessing from your question that you’ve read about high sensitivity and that it didn’t provide all the answers.
Take the OEs questionnaire
My next step would be to take the overexcitabilities questionnaire and read the excellent description of OEs in the PowerWood OEs flyer. If you discover that your child has OEs, remember they’re not a disorder. They’re personality traits that can bring many benefits as well as challenges. Individuals with OEs often experience above-average creativity, energy and enjoyment of life, for instance.
Consider having an introductory chat with a parenting coach who specialises in OEs to find out more about how they apply to your family. Skype coaching with OEs expert Simone de Hoogh helped us enormously.
Identify your specific concerns
Shift your focus away from puzzling over what theory applies and ask yourself, ‘What challenges does my child needs help with?’ Are you worried about her inability to focus on learning? Her social behaviour? Anxiety? Identifying your specific concerns will help guide you towards solutions and the people who can provide them.
Occupational therapy can be a great support to some families. Read about sensory processing issues. If you think OT might help, consider consulting a therapist. My son enjoyed his OT sessions but they were expensive and when we’d seen no behavioural changes after a year we stopped them (by which time Jasper was getting bored anyway).
Educational psychologist assessment
Read the Columbus Group definition of giftedness. How (if at all) might having your child assessed by an educational psychologist help? The answer will depend on your location and circumstances.
We homeschool in the UK, and an assessment with an ed psych helped us identify asynchronies and twice-exceptionality.
The psychologist identified issues like (relatively) slow processing speed and working memory, mild dyslexia, and dysgraphia.
The information and resources the psychologist recommended has helped me meet my children’s needs better. It also got us into the system for accommodations (such as the ability to use a keyboard in exams) later down the line.
‘Sometimes I want to throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult. I am also a sensitive mama and get triggered by some of the meltdowns’
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What are your favourite resources for raising differently wired kids?
What professional support has been most helpful to you?
Do you have a question of your own?
I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you by Elaine Aron (book)
Happy Sensitive Kids (blog)
Understanding Sensory Issues 10 informative articles about sensory issues in children
Sensory STUFF My Little Poppies (blog)
OE questionnaire (a great starting point – highly recommended)
OE info (PowerWood flyer all about OEs – highly recommended)
Living With Intensity (book) by Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski
Giftedness and twice-exceptionality
GHF (Gifted Homeschoolers Forum)
SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)
Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober (book)
TiLt Parenting Inspiring website for parents of differently-wired kids, including weekly podcast and blog (recommended)
Understood.org Resources about all kinds of learning and attention issues with useful tips for getting professional support (US website)
Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (book) by James T Webb et al
A surprisingly powerful tool to raise your energy and resilience (downloadable MP3 meditation recording)
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Header image by Alexa Fotos