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Behaviour, Book, Children, Health

Chapter 5: A Sensory Base Health Framework for Highly Sensitive Children


And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. ― Friedrich Nietzsche

It is becoming increasingly clear that without sensory literacy we will continue to inadvertently disadvantage and hurt some of our most sensitive children. As we discussed in chapter 4, we tend to be unaware of the prevalent sensory toxicity in our western world, while other cultures have integrated the senses in their belief systems for millennia.

Could synthesizing ancient asian, aboriginal health traditions as well as holistic health and emerging neuroscience and other research models, offer solutions that address the complexity of sensory health? Could such an approach make it possible to re-understand spatial embodied knowledge and begin to build the sensory literacy necessary to decolonize our senses?

This seems a promising venture. This could allow to create A highly sensitive child health framework that would not only favor the centrality of the senses to health but also acknowledge the role of technology in defining space. Drawing from these traditions, it becomes possible to incorporate an array of health determinants needed to be balanced. Generating in the process a sensory health “library” for adults and children to refer to when considering sensory well-being. Such a framework should also be pluralistic, taking into consideration the uniqueness of a child’s experiences (sensory and otherwise). While these goals may seem rather complex, the Integrative theory can provide a framework to approach sensory experiences in a systematic yet flexible way. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens, co-director of the Integral ecology centre, presents a useful summary of the theory[i], which is summarized below.

Integrative Theory: A Plurality of Perspective

In 1977 American philosopher Ken Wilber came up with the integrated theory. It uses a quadrant matrix that is often referred to as the AQAL model, designed to explain some of the most basic repeating patterns of reality. According to this approach, everything can be viewed from two fundamental distinctions: 1) an inside and an outside perspective and 2) from a singular and plural perspective. These represent 4 primary perspectives through which we can experience the world: subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective.

fig 1

Image Source: https://www.integrallife.com/integral-post/overview-integral-theory

These quadrants represent dimensions of reality, aspects of the world that are always present in each moment. For example, all individuals have subjective experiences and intentionality, or interiors, as well as various observable behaviors and physiological components, or exteriors. In this model, Similarly to aboriginal health belief systems, individuals are never considered alone but as members of groups or collectives which establish social and cultural components that a neurotypical person usually integrates. As Sean Esbjörn-Hargens explains:

“For example, what’s more important in human behavior? The psychology of the mind (upper left), or the cultural conditioning of the individual (lower left)? Integral Theory answers, again: BOTH. What is more critical in social development? The habits, customs, and norms of a culture (lower left), or the products it produces (like gun and steel – lower right). Integral Theory answers: BOTH. The more we can consciously include the 4 quadrants in our perspective, the more whole, balanced, healthy, comprehensive, and effective our actions will be.”[ii]

This model embraces the complexity of reality by considering each quadrant as simultaneously arising and equality important. Integrative theory offers another important useful element to consider when considering a child’s sensory experiences, the quadrivia approach. The term quadrivia refers to four ways of seeing (quadrivium is singular). In this context, the quadrant represents perspectives that are useful to analyze what is affecting a child. In this approach the different perspectives associated with each quadrant are directed at a particular reality, which is placed in the center of the diagram. If we use the child as the focus or object of investigation and analysis, expertise from each of the quadratic domains comes into play in evaluating the situation. The arrows pointing toward the center indicate the methodologies of different “expertise” (associated with each quadrant) that could use to study sensory experiences.

These include exploring the emotions, self-identities, and beliefs of the individual, the family and the community through psychological and experiential inquiry; exploring the empirical, chemical, and biological factors contributing to the sensory overload through behavioral and physiological analyses; exploring the philosophical, ethical, and religious viewpoints of the community around the child through cultural and worldview investigations; and exploring the environmental, political, educational, legal, and economic factors of the situation through ecological and social assessments.

Figure 2 The four quadrivia

This is vital to understanding sensory experiences as it allows discerning sensory experiences in a more nuanced way by encompassing a broad array of sensory health aspects. It allows distinguishing between subjective and “objectives” sensorial experiences and to potentially comprehend at which point in the sensorial experience a child’s subjective experience trumps the objective rules of his/her culture and social groups. Could it be that there is a heightened sensory culture common to highly sensitive children and could approaching the problems with empathy to a sensorial perspective allow to create a bridge between our societal and sensorial needs and, in the process, develop a new understanding of “out of sync” sensorial behaviors and how to sooth the distress causing them? Through out this chapter, the AQAL model will be used to examine these questions.

To start, let’s articulate what a sensory health framework should aim to accomplish for a highly sensitive child.

HSC Sensory Health Framework

The subsequent model is based on following hypothesis:

1) Highly sensitive children uniquely combine heightened sensory intelligence to other forms of heightened intelligence, which impart them with a different identity formation than neuro-typical children.

2) The characteristics of modern space, time as well as complex sensory input influence their sensory wellbeing.

3) A highly sensitive child’s health is dependant on their ability to balance responsiveness to stimuli; hence a highly sensitive child needs to develop awareness, self-realization and self-determination of his/her heightened forms of intelligence.

A HSC sensory health framework should provide the tools for a child and his/her family to develop the literacy necessary to move through different levels of personal development unique to heightened senses. Hence, it should facilitate the development of an individualized health system calibrated to the specific personality of a child and his/her specific types of heightened intelligence (sensorial, social, emotional, empathic, etc). Given the wisdom of our ancestors towards these issues, a HSC health model should combine ancestral and modern knowledge, in order to learn how to consciously use the senses and develop the life strategies necessary to achieve a state of well-being.

Considering the senses as core to health entails an examination of sensory inputs, sensory processes and modulation as well as sensory outputs. The model below is based on the idea that our sense of realities are influences by these three sensory communication processes which, in turn, influence how we understand diverse dimensions of subjective/intra/objectives realities. These dimensions exist at the intersection of our spatial environment and social life, the senses, the body, time and our “awareness of awareness”. Each of these planes represents a field of existence with its own sensory data that each influences our responsiveness.

On the input side, we will find fundamental yet invisible influences on the senses, those of energy and the environment (both social and spatial). On the processing side, we will find the senses themselves. And on the output side, we will find the body both in its internal and external dimensions, which involve space, technology, time and self-awareness. Finally, a Well Being dimension based on layers of Self Realization represents the last dimension, focused on bringing to consciousness unconscious sensory experiences towards developing personal sensorial insights.

This sensory insight is a type of understanding that emerges out of observing internal and external sensory influences. As we saw in chapter 3, by developing mind sight, it is possible to retrain the brain to switch perception of experiences as negative into positive one. What is suggested here, is that with sensorial awareness, it also becomes possible to develop sensorial sight, as another aspect of mind sight. As our awareness grows, our sensorial knowledge increases, and what were once unconscious experiences can become understood (literacy); a sensory vocabulary can be developed from the analysis these sensory input and become the bases of a personal sensory language; by developing this conscious sensory awareness we can learn to interpret the communication signals of the internal and external dimensions of our being, and to understand the specific nature of how sensory stimuli influences our sensory processing and modulation, pathway to recalibrating our senses and ways of life and participating consciously in any given sensorial situation (sensory insight).

Previous: Chapter 4: Conclusion: From Trauma to Health

Next: Inputs

Work Cited:

[i] Esbjorn-Hargens, Sean (2009). “An All-Inclusive Framework for the 21st Century. An Overview of Integral Theory”. Integral Post. Integral life. March 12th, 2009. https://www.integrallife.com/integral-post/overview-integral-theory

[ii] Esbjorn-Hargens, Sean (2009). “An All-Inclusive Framework for the 21st Century. An Overview of Integral Theory”. Integral Post. Integral life. March 12th, 2009. https://www.integrallife.com/integral-post/overview-integral-theory




  1. Pingback: Inputs: The Hidden Dimensions of a Sensitive Sensory Life | The Highly Sensitive Family - January 25, 2015

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