Attention spectrum as part of an Intelligence spectrum
Howard Gardner and Thomas Hatch identified nine types of intelligence that reflect extra “sensitivities” to the world: Naturalist Intelligence, Musical Intelligence, Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (Number/Reasoning Smart), Existential Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelligence (people Smart), Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence (“Body Smart”), Linguistic Intelligence (Word Smart), Intra-personal Intelligence (Self Smart”), Spatial Intelligence (“Picture Smart”).
How many of these do we address in formal education? The ones that tend to relate to the left hemisphere of our brain: music, logic, linguistic and minimally body and spatial intelligence. The other types are much more holistic and tend to be ignored in our curricula.
One of these intelligences that intrigue me is the Naturalist Intelligence since it designates the human ability to discriminate among living things (plants, animals) as well as sensitivity to other features of the natural world (such as clouds, rock configurations). HSPs are more physiologically built to read these features. HSPs hear the noise of nature, the stuff that glues the sky together, the “empty” space, which is full of nuances and signs… This is most likely the reason a large number of HSP thrive in the arts, healing and teaching/coaching professions. They sense and understand poetic space and hear the hidden codes of the universe. Fluid Time is also essential to this harmony. When time is fluid, as it is in nature, all activities are intertwined and exist as one, within the environment. We move in sync within the world using our broad sensory attention to understand our existence. Whereas when space and time have been colonized, separated and compartmentalized, every activity requires a lot more energy and focus and the overworking of the senses becomes a sort of trauma. How impossible it must be for a child to feel safe in classrooms given that their strengths are seen as disabilities.
Interpersonal Intelligence is also an important aspect of HSPs ways of being, and suggests that the emotional contagion and empathy encountered by HSP can be considered a form of intelligence.
I am beginning to understand that during their development, all children operate within an animist perception of the world. But for gifted and highly sensitive chilcren , every phenomenon that draws their attention is perceived, or felt, to be at least potentially animate: Each perceived thing having its own rhythm and style, its own interior animation. Everything moving — although, clearly, some things move much slower than other things, like the mountains, or the ground underfoot.This broad attention is in direct conflict with the narrow attention that is often expected of them in their family and school life and in their future workplaces. For highly sensitive children, these ways of perceive forms the primary mode of self-awareness, as we will see in chapter 5.
Heightened Sensory Processing as forms of intelligence?
Maybe the misdiagnoses between ADHD, Autism, HSP, Giftedness etc, exist because they all are part of the same spectrum of sensory processing intelligence, each representing different coping and behavioral reactions to toxic levels of arousal from environmental, sensory, social, cognitive and emotional experiences.
Dr. T. Rowley, in the article “multi-sensory children”, posits that autistic and ADHD labeled children possess heightened multi-sensory abilities. In other words, that they gather information, experience life, and/or express themselves through more than five senses and/or through multiple senses with great intensity. She believes that they are receiving pathologized labels because they are caught in a system that cannot see or recognize them as gifted or value their differences. She offers these definitions of how they perceive the world, which can be helpful in understanding what they are experiencing:
“ Autism: There is a spectrum of autism, so no description captures all children under this diagnostic label. However, many of these children live in an inside out world, relating less to the outside physical world and more to the one that they are experiencing within. And ironically, their inside world is often outside their body. They are often spiritually connected in a way that most of us do not experience.
Their vibration is very high and touches into physical reality every so often, but they do not typically use their five senses to relate to others in the three dimensional world. Finding ways to effectively communicate with these children is important. They may have as many things to teach us about the world of Spirit as we have to teach them about the physical world.
Practitioners who are highly conscious and can contact these children telepathically make the most progress in understanding the child and in helping the child’s awareness and development in a three dimensional world. Decreasing the stimuli in their environment on all levels supports them. Meditating in the presence of the children and honoring the richness of silence may also help.”
Dr. Rowley is not alone. Some higher functioning people with autism like to think of autism as a different way of thinking, such as Temple Grandin who coined the idea of high functioning austistic people as “pattern thinkers”. Others are looking at autistic characteristics as positive traits of an alternate brain, and developing alternate theories of development that no longer compares them to neuro-typical models, as exemplified by Autistic blogger Jason Horsley’s (2013) words:
“ when it comes to learning neurotypical social language, autistics may be over-qualified for the task. (…) If autists’ brains are more complex, then it makes perfect sense that they would be slower to develop, because they would have a larger and more-far-reaching “mapping process” to complete before they could engage with their environment ”
He continues to define some of these more-far-reaching mapping processes using other autistic experiences:
“Unnaturally” enhanced senses are so common to the autistic experience that they may even be the norm.,  More provocatively, in Soon Will Come The Light (1994), Thomas McKean describes an ability to sense other people’s emotions. “It is rare that I know what anyone is actually thinking, but concurrent emotions are very common.” McKean adds that “the link is much stronger if [he is] actually touching the person.” In her first book, Nobody Nowhere (1992), autistic Donna Williams describes her experiences of “day dreams” that she later verifies to be accurate visions of other people’s behavior.
In “The beautiful otherness of the autistic mind,” Francesca Happé and Uta Frith write that autists “have privileged access to raw forms of information, not normally accessible, that may give a new and more veridical perceptual insight, in contrast to expectation-biased interpretations. . . . [My emphasis] One possibility is that all people with autism have the potential to develop savant skills, and that chances of exposure and opportunity play a large part in determining outcome.”[i] In other words, the degree to which autistic people are provided with an environment conducive to the development of their brains and perceptual faculties would determine their ability to function as Nature intended them to do so — in stark contrast to what (neuro-typical) society demands of them.”
Similarly, researchers are beginning to think that autism is indeed a different way of thinking, not a disease. Scientists from the University of Montreal have demonstrated that those on the autism spectrum use their brains differently and that while specific areas are busier, other brain areas are less so. In the article “Maximising the brain potential of those with autism”, Dr Laurent Mottron from the University of Montreal explains: “The natural tendency is to think that autism is a form of disorganization. Here, what we see is that it is a reorganisation of the brain.” This reorganization is not a disability but in my mind the emergence of an evolutionary trait. Like parents of these children, Dr Mottron believes that:
“Instead of trying to cure autism, perhaps we should be looking at ways to help those who think differently to develop ways of interacting within their community and to maximize their potential. And the areas of their brains which are not normally so active could be stimulated.“ (Montron, 2012).
As for ADHD symptoms, Dr. Rowley offers this definition:
“ADHD: These children are often highly creative and relate to life in holographic ways, resulting in less linear, logical, sequential brain access. “A picture speaks a thousand words”, and these children may be better at communicating through art or theater than linear language. Also, competition means less in a holographic, un-sequenced world, so they may be less inclined to want to compete. ADHD children are more inside their bodies than those with autism.
These children often notice and can take in more sensory data than others. This includes light, sound, vibration, verbal tones, and non-verbal cues, to name several. While they are sensitive to more stimuli, these children and even adolescents may not have the brain function developed to process this overload of sensory data until their mid-twenties. So they can be overwhelmed more quickly than others. Physical problems, such as anxiety, panic, stomach aches, etc. may result as they try to take on the challenge of digesting their multi-sensory experience. They may have a harder time organizing material, distinguishing big picture from detail, and determining what information is most important. There may be a capacity to be sequential, but it may not be a common version of logical. Their nervous system may be vibrating faster than the rest of their body can comfortably contain.
Their energy and gift often leads them to be more comfortable in expansive and visionary roles than in routine or operational ones. For these children, helping them find and practice their energetic and physical relationship to the ground and the boundaries of their body is very helpful. It is also beneficial to help them with mental boundaries and structures in their thinking.”
People labeled with ADHD “may instead be our most creative individuals, our most extraordinary thinkers, our most brilliant inventors and pioneers,” writes Thom Hartmann in his 2003 book The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child. He posits that people with ADHD may carry genetically coded abilities that once were, and may still be, necessary for human survival and that contribute richness to the culture.
Hartmann believes that the creativity, impulsiveness, and distractibility that are characteristic of ADHD are not signs of a disorder at all, but instead are components of a highly adaptive skill set utilized by our hunting and gathering ancestors who needed broad attention skills to survive. These characteristics have been critical to the survival and development of our modern civilization and will be vital as humanity faces new challenges in the future.
Imagine how overwhelming modern life is to someone whose sensory, emotional and cognitive systems are intense, calibrated to be able to perceive the minutest change in magnetic resonance, airflows and other invisible energy forces but also emotions in others. If these children grow up with rules and boundaries that emphasize rationality, neglecting emotional and sensory experiences, these multi sensory gifted children can become anxious, depressed, alienated, socially inept or emotionally blocked when having to repressed the emotions and behaviors triggered by their senses.
Perhaps this explains why we exist in a time of heightened addiction. A majority of us use many types of distractions to avoid thinking about the traumas we have experiences, are experiencing and witness in others. Some are addicted to information, dreams, sex, social interactions, sports, food, shopping, substances and/or the media. Our society is filled with temptations to keep us amused, entertained, hyper-focused or feeling satisfied by an experience we have purchased. This renders the common western life highly toxic and without some drastic changes in what we value, healing ourselves and our children will remain a very difficult, if not impossible, task.
For people whose identity is created outside the boundaries of the body, it seems plausible that sensory processing sensitivities can cause so much pain that they shut down the input and output to insure that the self does not destruct. And if the stimuli continue, do so forever. Imagine living a life where everything is an aggression on your senses but also your sense of self. Children start having focus issues, some becoming hypo-sensitive other hyper-sensitive and maybe, just maybe, eventually rewiring their brains and nervous systems to cope, adhd or autism alike?
Such preoccupations seem particularly important at a time when an ADHD diagnose immediately calls upon the use of medication. If these drugs can help children operate quietly in the existing social and cultural constructions of our world, in the case of highly sensitive children and any type of gifted child, they are preventing the child from developing a healthy relationship to their heightened sensory abilities. In addition, there are real dangers in taking these drugs for highly sensitive children as they need to learn to recognize the bodily and mental signs that signals inappropriate toxic levels of stimulation that affect their attention.
Let’s have a look at some of the research on what affects attention as it may offer powerful alternative to the use of drugs on young and offer parents with other avenues to explore to help their children regain a more balance attention.
 Gardner, Howard and Hatch, Thomas (2009). Multiple Intelligences Go to School: Educational Implications of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Educational Researcher, Vol. 18, No. 8 (Nov., 1989), pp. 4-10. American Educational Research Association. Retreived from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176460
Rowley, Therese (no date). Multi-sensory children. Retrieve at: http://media.wix.com/ugd/910f0f_cf1b8c409514f89478ec7e601d4d5e7f.pdf
“In The Sound of a Miracle, Georgie Stehli described the hyper-acute hearing that explained her sleeping difficulties. At night she could hear her own body functions; the sound of her heart beating, the blood running in her veins, etc. This phenomena was reported by several in our survey as well. The constant noise from their own bodies was described as a terrible distraction that was often the cause of some their behaviors.”
The piece adds, “There is general agreement that savant skills can be found in people who are not autistic. An open question is whether such individuals share the cognitive characteristic of bias for superior featural processing. If ‘eye for detail’ is an important predisposing factor in talent, regardless of autism, this might perhaps help to redirect the trend for ‘Asperger spotting’ in geniuses current or long dead: instead this theory suggests that it is one or more of the cognitive biases/abilities characteristic of ASD, rather than the diagnosis itself, that is linked to special abilities and could usefully be identified in well-known individuals, from Newton to Bill Gates.”
Rowley, Therese (no date). Multi-sensory children. Retrieve at: http://media.wix.com/ugd/910f0f_cf1b8c409514f89478ec7e601d4d5e7f.pdf