Introduction: Thriving In a Toxic World?
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn – Alvin Toffler
If you are reading this book, you are probably looking for information to help a child who does not “fit” in or is “out of sync”. A child who is different, a child doctors do not know how to help. You may be faced with a diagnosis of ADHD and/or autism and/or learning disability and feel that these diagnoses somehow do not correspond to what your child is experiencing because you have noticed that your child’s “out of control” behaviours and lack of attention change for the better as soon as he or she is in a “safe”, quieter or calmer environment.
If that is the case, you may likely have a child who has sensory processing sensitivities. If that is the case have hope, you are not alone. I am the parent of two with heightened sensory processing capacities. When we began our journey in the world of sensory processing, I found very little help from the medical community. I began to read as much material as I could on the issue and turned to sensory processing communities for answers to explain the experiences I observed my children encountering. As a result I started a blog, entitled thehighlysensitivefamily.wordpress.com, to collect the material I found. This book is the result of this research.
What Are Sensory Processing Sensitivities?
Sensory processing sensitivities refer to different responses than normal to stimuli (environmental and social). It can affect people in only one sense–for example, just touch or just sight or movement–or affect multiple senses. Sensory processing is a key characteristic not only to autism but also ADHD, giftedness, learning disabilities and many others diagnoses.
Without implying that Autism, ADHD and other disabilities do not exist, it is important to understand that children with sensory processing sensitivities are often misdiagnosed as having ADHD or autism since their sensory overload or under-load can translate into “out of control” behaviours, attention deficits, withdrawing behaviours as well as translate into difficulties engaging in social interactions and managing in social settings such as the classroom, home or new environments. But children affected by sensory processing issues behave differently because they are experiencing sensory stress which affect their ability to be calm in a variety of social and environmental settings. When the sensory stressors are removed or reduced, their behaviours change drastically.
Alarmingly, while few of us have heard of this phenomenon, it is much more widespread than we think. In the article “Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids”, it is explained that:
“ Sensory processing disorders are more prevalent in children than autism and as common as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, yet the condition receives far less attention partly because it’s never been recognized as a distinct disease.
Children with SPD struggle with how to process stimulation, which can cause a wide range of symptoms including hypersensitivity to sound, sight and touch, poor fine motor skills and easy distractibility. Some SPD children cannot tolerate the sound of a vacuum, while others can’t hold a pencil or struggle with social interaction. Furthermore, a sound that one day is an irritant can the next day be sought out. The disease can be baffling for parents and has been a source of much controversy for clinicians, according to the researchers.”(Bunim, 2013)[i]
As MD Elysa Marco explains, most people don’t know how to support these kids because they don’t fall into a traditional clinical medical group:
“Sometimes they are called the ‘out of sync’ kids. Their language is good, but they seem to have trouble with just about everything else, especially emotional regulation and distraction. In the real world, they’re just less able to process information efficiently, and they get left out and bullied.”(Bunim, 2013)[ii]
Another difficulty is that there is always a lot of confusion surrounding sensory processing, and, as is explained in the article “Decoding Sensory Processing Disorder”, many different behaviours fall under the phrase sensory processing disorder. Some children overreact and others underreact to overwhelming stimuli. While children exhibit widely different, and sometimes opposite, characteristics, they are all classified as possessing a sensory processing disorder. This can be very confusing (Jewishpress.com, 2013) [iii].
Sensory processing sensitivities are very real, and while we consider it a disorder, many other cultures have understood for millennia that it is a form of intelligence. In a “disembodied” culture that worships the mind at the expenses of the senses, as we will explore in chapter 1, we unfortunately do not recognize the senses as essential to health or to our perception of the world. Worst, our western culture has a tradition of pathologizing “difference” and as such, sensory processing sensitivities have become labeled as a disorder, topic of chapter 2. Thus most of literature on the subject refers to this phenomenon as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). As we will see in chapter 3, different sensory processing characteristics can correspond to behaviours often associated with Autism and/or ADHD. While the medical community does not recognize heightened sensory processing to be a phenomenon dissociated from “disorders”, researchers are beginning to prove that sensory processing sensitivities affect an area of the brain distinct from those affected by autism and ADHD (Bunim, 2013)[iv].
Adding to the confusion, if many medical researchers still consider this as a disease, these sensitivities can also indicate giftedness or a “highly sensitive” personality trait (Aron et al, 1997)[v]. In these cases, sensory processing differences lead to forms of “over-excitability” that can be reduced when children learn to be aware of their sensitivities, to self-regulate their reaction and eventually, this can lead to lessening the need to behave in peculiar ways.
I have come to realize through my own family experiences that there is a way to help these children thrive, but it requires us to understand and address these children’s sensorial needs as positive and fundamental traits that are part of a healthy life. This is hard work and unfortunately, it means being willing to go against mainstream ideas of health.
Our Own Story
My journey in the world of sensory health began with the birth of my children. My first-born always refused to be cuddled. It was clear that touching was a painful experience for him. He was highly sensitive to my milk, and I had to eliminate many foods. He was a happy baby but when time came to put him into daycare, I became increasingly aware of his uniqueness. He would nurture other children who were struggling in the daycare setting, but after a few days of adjustment to this new environment, he began to have nightmares. It was clear his reactions to the stress were more intense than other children. As I was pregnant with my second child, I kept him home. The nightmares stopped immediately.
My second child was even more sensitive. He reacted not only to foods, but also to sound and environmental elements. Our lives became very stressful, having to relearn how to cook for a child who kept on reacting to most things in our environment constantly. As I went back to work, the stress level of our family increased and my child’s sensitivities increased as well.
I found myself seeking solutions and answers to the difficulties my children were facing. Yet, the medical community fell short of being able to help us since sensory processing sensitivities are considered to be a real condition. Our pediatrician and, my partner of the time, thought I was an overprotective mother who did not know how control her children’s behaviours in an effective way. They were reacting like the majority of society, that parenting is at the source of “out of control” behaviours in children.
But as their mother, I observed that my children’s “acting out” behaviours were caused by reactions to specific type of people, usually anxious, as much as to specific types of environments and social settings. They are what I now understand to be empathic. In other words, they are deeply sensitive to other people’s moods, an anxious person would make my eldest son act out of control immediately. Of course my anxieties made him react too.
During a medical checkup, my son’s out of control behavior intrigued the doctor who decided we should get him evaluated for autism. So I did. The team who evaluated him had a hard time deciding on a diagnostic, as his issues were very slight, but they did in the end evaluate him as having the Asperger syndrome. My second son, whose reactions are manifested in extroverted ways became diagnosed with ADHD. By this time, I had my doubts on how accurate these diagnoses were particularly when both my children were also labeled as gifted. I came to understand that doctors when not sure of why children reacts in certain ways tend to use large umbrella diagnoses, autism corresponding to children who are more introverted and tend to need to withdraw from stimuli, as if in pain, and adhd children who act it out physically. I began to think that maybe these labels were different point on a same spectrum of sensory reactions, based on the external behaviours manifested by children. Thankfully, as suggested by the evaluation team, I also got diagnosed and eventually labeled as having Asperger tendencies. Through this process, the psychologist who diagnosed me introduced me to the Highly Sensitive Person personality trait and it immediately resonated with issues we were facing in a much more positive way.
What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
According to Wikipedia: “ A highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high sensory processing sensitivity (or innate sensitiveness as Carl Jung originally coined it[vi],[vii]). According to Elaine N. Aron and colleagues as well as other researchers, highly sensitive people, who comprise about a fifth of the population (equal numbers in men and women), may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems.[viii] This is a specific trait, with key consequences for how we view people, that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, social anxiety problems, inhibitedness, social phobia and innate fearfulness,[ix],[x] and introversion.[xi] (…) Although the term is primarily used to describe humans, something similar to the trait is present in over 100 other species.”[xii],
According to blogger Victoria Erikson, highly sensitive people sense life deeper than others. They are emotional chameleons who soak up other people’s moods and desires like sponges. They are deeply alive, experience sensations vividly and are moved to tears by the beauty in simple thing: the beauty of a flower, a subtle shift in the environment, the riff of a song, a scent, a taste, etc.
Of course, all are fragile, but highly sensitive people are more easily stimulated. As blogger Victoria Erikson, a highly sensitive person herself, explains, they:
“have the ability to see colors and feel energy the way others hear jet planes. The world takes on a rich tapestry of immense gorgeousness at almost every turn, which then fuels your imagination and makes you spin with aliveness. And aliveness is a grand thing.
“Aliveness is energy. It’s the juice, the vitality, and the passion that wakes up our cells every morning. It’s what makes us want to dance. It’s the energy that moves a relationship from the status quo to something grander and much more expansive, something that makes our hearts beat faster, our minds and our eyes open wider, than ever before. Everything is of interest to a person who is truly alive, whether it’s a challenge, a loving moment, a bucket of grief, or a glimpse of beauty.” ~ Daphne Rose Kingma
Yet, it also means that much like the spirited and hot blooded Arabians in the horse world, your alertness and reactivity may easily cause you to shy away with fright at things that shouldn’t be so scary.
Since your nervous system responds so easily to stimuli, that it can often times be overwhelming and exhausting to be so flooded with sensation—which makes you prone to bolting from uncomfortable situations, relationships, and jobs.
And sometimes your sensitivity makes life extraordinarily painful, and you want to shut down and hide your raw self from the loud chaos that accompanies this earth’s continual rotation.
Continually swimming in an endless sea of sensation can at times be exhausting, regardless if it’s beautifully terrible or terribly beautiful, and this is why your deep-rooted need for peace and self care is essential to support your superb sensitivity. ”[xiii]
Deciding to understand sensory processing issues from this perspective allows for an optimistic approach to helping children. It allows seeing them as people with special gifts that need to be nurtured instead of repressed.
Hope In A Toxic World
The discovery of this highly sensitive trait changed our lives. It helped me to understand that heightened sensory processing is not necessarily a disorder. Some of us possess a deep sensory sensitivity, a gift that should be fostered, not eliminated, since it helps us perceive the world in much more nuanced details than most. I began to research the world of sensory processing and HSPs. I decided not to ignore or “cure” our sensitivity but to celebrate them and to help my children develop these incredible qualities to their fullest.
As the HSP researcher Dr. Elaine Aron mentions in her book “the highly sensitive child”[xiv], that parenting a Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) brings many joys. My children do deeply appreciate me, they have made me much more aware of many things and make me see and question life in new ways. We connect on very deep levels. Their empathy and reaction to me have forced me to be much more aware of myself and to find the way to heal myself of many toxic ways in order to help them find inner peace, a work still in progress.
As a parent I have had to learn that their discomfort in our man-made world is normal and that my role is to help them discover how to integrate in social settings while respecting their uniqueness and differences. According to the blog, HSP Health, their sensory processing sensitivities mean that often HSC get the sense at a young age that they are different. They don’t fit in. They are not motivated in the same way. This profound sense of being different is not temporary. It does not go away, and can cause pain when family, peers, and early authority figures treat the sensitive’s differentness negatively.
The HSP Health blog provides a list of reasons, as to why the highly sensitive person will get the message that they are different, which resonates with my family. Amongst them, are many sensory related issues:
- Physical sensitivities like loud sounds, too much noise, light and tactile or touch sensitivity may cause discomfort or pain, which is not necessarily true of non-HSP’s.
- A highly sensitive person often needs time to themselves to rest after interacting with others. Non-HSP’s often recharge with other people.
- Social interaction can be draining unless it is for a short time, with a few people in a quiet setting. Non-HSP’s are more comfortable with big noisy social engagements.
- The highly sensitive person hates small talk, something that non-HSP’s thrive on competition and the highly sensitive person are like oil and water. Non-HSP’s are more comfortable with competition.
- Highly sensitive people are sensitive to the feelings of others and have a tendency to absorb the feelings of others causing much discomfort and unhappiness.
- HSP’s are known for their empathy. Empathy in sensitives is more than a feeling for others – it is an active way of knowing the world.
- HSP’s often feel a deep connection with nature and all the creatures in it.
- Highly sensitive people can be deeply spiritual.
- Many HSP’s will have physical conditions and allergies of one form or another.
- HSP’s can form deep bonds with animals.
- Harm and abuse of all kinds are harder for highly sensitive people to heal.
The differences between highly sensitive people, and the rest of the population, are much more than skin deep. The deep sensing that HSP experience means that they define their senses of self differently and as a consequence think differently.
Seeing my children from this lens made me realize that their future depends on them becoming self-aware of these specificities and being able to self-regulate their own reaction without fear or feeling somehow inadequate. I began to understand that in order to help them become healthy and active participants in the world, I needed to guide them in a process of sensorial self-discovery, leading by example.
For my children to thrive, I had to accept that life must be handled differently. Yet, I did not have the knowledge or the tools to help my children. I chose to undertake a process of deep change, in the process deciding to de-learn many things I had been taught about emotional, empathy, social, chemical, sensorial, physical, intellectual ways of being. I began a slow process of change that incorporated sensory processing in our health. Slowly, as I nourished my own sensitivities, instead of trying to “overcome them”, I began to experience the world very differently.
It is crucial to help our children become who they are, when we ignore these gifts and consider them as part of a disease, we are condemning them to a life of mental ills that could be avoided. Part of the nurturing of children’s senses is to become aware of what can be toxic to them, topic of chapter 4. When I began this journey, it was very difficult to find relevant information and help when dealing with how to ease symptoms caused by high level of toxicity, how to help a child (or adult) heal when traditional medicine is not an option, understanding the hidden codes of sensory languages, helping children decode their moods and sensory signals, and learning to use them to their advantage instead of being overwhelmed by them.
The first step for me has been to learn how to deeply listen to myself and to my children. I also had to learn to act and react from a place of deep understanding, compassion and empathy.
DIY HSP Well-Being
As a university researcher, I had been studying the use of digital technology by young children for some time and one thing became very evident to me. Media can help these children. I have been part of a group of Ryerson new media researchers[xv] involved in the creation of a new research lab called EDGE. EDGE (Experience Design and Gaming Environments) lab research projects focus on the studying, fostering and/or developing new media practices such as serious gaming, trans-media, adaptive design and socio-economic designs.
EDGE researchers explore the aesthetics of current “making” culture and peer-to-peer culture. My own research focused on studying and developing informal-learning communal practices that promote self-determination and the physical autonomy of marginalized individuals and communities in order to enhance social integration.
My colleague Dr. Jason Nolan and I noticed that objects all have a bias implied in their design, which often isolates individuals from other potential aspects of social life. Institutional aesthetics such as those of the medical community or other “expert” communities often disregard the experience (sensorial, social, mental and/or physical) that these objects create in their users. Within a new media perspective, this experience has to become key, which implies a co-design approach that involves the user community as much as the “expert” in the creation of artifacts. This realization came from observing a little girl who could not talk or become an active social in daycare through the use of a cardboard chair build for her by Dr. Nolan. Prior to this chair, she had to sit in a baby chair with a caregiver constantly by her side. The semantics of this experience were tacitly excluding her from the possibility of a social life with the other children. By acquiring some physical independence from her caregiver, she became a peer and began to be integrated in other children’s social lives. Her chair allowed her to acquired a new social dimension by changing her status in space.
This example demonstrates how simple changes in perspective can have drastic impact on the social life of a child labeled as disabled. Just like this little girl, children with heightened sensory processing capacities can feel isolated and socially be pushed to the side because of their inability to fit in. Offering these children sensory strategy and solutions could have the same impact on the quality of their social life as the cardboard chair had on this little girl. There is nothing wrong with these children, disability is often what we call difference. But if we begin to see difference as part of diversity, and if we learn to listen to these children and help them self-regulate their experiences, they can thrive.
The network culture of our 21st century has created new possibilities for “difference”. In virtual spaces, new realities have been made possible, such as the emergent digital lives of people normally marginalized, if not oppressed, by dominant communication and spatial infrastructures. Much self-determination has developed in virtual spaces: Paraplegics dancing, people meeting virtually and marrying in real life, autistic children expressing themselves with ease, physically disabled children learning about the body through gaming, communities of people helping each other cope with depression and cancer by creating art and spaces to share experiences, poor communities developing sustainable economies and virtual protesters influencing governments’ decision making. Key to all these activities has been an incredible sense of community where people share experiences, care and help each other in order to enhance their social lives. All of this made possible by the creation of a new type of technological space, disembodied but also, at least in its early years, open to alternate cultures and life realities, a notion we will explore in chapter 2.
Digital Native Learning
As a socio-economist focused on studying the changes brought by new media to our social lives, I understood networks as a space of knowledge production that could give me and my children access to informal communities of interest and practices focused on similar issues. In my mind, the internet has a become a sort of “Living library” where peers share their lived experiences and knowledge, potentially giving each other new perspective and ideas to apply to their own context. I knew that the emerging digital learners are going to have drastically different learning needs than analog children.
For one, they have or are learning to find what they want in terms of information and content, when they need it. Their learning is out of the classroom for many things such as dancing, media making, etc.
Secondly, their social world is rapidly becoming embedded in mobile technologies. They exist in hybrid spaces where the distinction between space social/ institutional /personal boundaries are being eroded. They learn and live in real time. Their notion of is going to be radically different and a lot more based on a hybrid between virtual and physical space and time continuum.
Thirdly, their future success will be defined less in terms of a competitive edge and educational degrees but much more in terms of diy survival abilities defined by varying sustainable, local, cultural needs as well as appropriate solutions to problems, that we as adults can barely imagine, let alone prepare them for, if our teaching methods and our approaches to what learning is don’t change.
We can use digital media to learn, and part of this project is to understand how.
Letting Go of Cultural Fear
It became clear that for my children to thrive, we would have to let go of the fears associated with being “different” and to explore an alternative value system that celebrate and embrace our uniqueness.
As R. D. Laing wrote in the book “Politics of Experience and the bird of paradise”:
What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being. The more one sees this, the more senseless it is to continue with generalized descriptions of supposedly specifically schizoid, schizophrenic, hysterical ‘mechanisms.’ There are forms of alienation that are relatively strange to statistically ‘normal’ forms of alienation. The ‘normally’ alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts more or less like everyone else, is taken to be sane. Other forms of alienation that are out of step with the prevailing state of alienation are those that are labeled by the ‘formal’ majority as bad or mad.”[xvi]
For Laing, instead of unconsciously leaving in a negative perspective within which we blame the world and others for what is happening to us, we must examine life and understand what triggers our negative impulses. If we look deeply enough, we will find the fears that drive these behaviours. While fear and anxiety evolved to keep us from physical danger, our brains use the same mechanisms for emotional danger. Depending on the upbringing we have, we can find that we expend a lot of energy each day dealing with fear:
“This underlying fear is not easy to work with; however, acknowledging it and becoming aware of our instinct to run away or cover it up with distractions, relationships and busyness, is a necessary starting point. We practice looking at what scares us and opening to all that life offers. We develop a greater compassion towards ourselves and our confidence can grow.” [xvii]
With these ideas in mind, having a sabbatical leave, I decided to take us away from our regular life style to experiment with a different sensorial reality. I began to think that maybe, as Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us will have to admit that we live out our lives in an ocean of fear[xviii]. Learning to live without fear is difficult to do so I decided that a change of context was essential to get us started in this process of change.
Changing our Sensory Context: Rediscovering Spatial Life
I decided to take my children for half a year to a small fishing village in Nicaragua. During this time, I de-schooled them. This experiment was meant to help me learn how to listen and them how to trust and speak from their deep inner space.
I did this to change our social context in order to learn to listen differently: to ourselves, each other and another culture, change the dynamics of teacher/students and child/parent relationship by putting me and kids on the same knowledge level, language and skill wise, to force a new collaborative dynamic and to build a culture based on trust, respect and understanding of each others and the rest of the community. We all have something to contribute and want to learn.
By deschooling the kids, I chose to try to build our own reality and integrate our dreams in real life. In his book deschooling Society, Ivan Illich discussed a time when society would be de-schooled. I believe we are in the early adoption phase of a digital DIY culture which is rapidly growing across middle class worldwide and that will lead to part of our population to choose de-schooling. This book is also the result of this journey and exploration. Exploring the important of deschooled node of learning, where learning is based on authentic need, in helping children build healthy, meaningful lives.
One essential discovery from this experience was how space affects our senses and during this time I watched my eldest child discover himself in relationship to space. It made me realize that part of the uniqueness of HSP is that they process the subtle messages hidden in space. Their sense of identity is embedded in spatial perception, which has a significant impact on how they perceive the world and themselves. In urban settings these signals can become toxic. In nature, the elimination of many of these signals allows a person to reconnect to the boundaries of their bodies within space.
This insight made me realize that we need to create an alternative way of understanding life that includes space. This is essential to help these children build a conscious and healthy relationship to space and his or her heightened senses to achieve wellbeing. While our culture has evolved to discount space and as a consequence many of our senses, our bodies still operate according to sensory processes that feed our “instincts” and provide the perceptions necessary to survive and adapt to the natural world. Highly sensitive children have heightened versions of these skills. When unaware of these capacities they cannot distinguish between themselves and their environment, they cannot recognize what is “them”.
The emotional chaos such a predicament creates must hinder their ability to be culturally appropriate in social interactions. Because our dominant culture does not recognize this connection to space as a variable in identity formation, these children do not possess the awareness, language and knowledge necessary to use this relationship as the communication tool it is. Without the ability to understand and self-regulate what they sense, highly sensitive children are confused as to what they are experiencing and as a result are operating “blind”, stuck experiencing a sensory language they do not understand nor know how to respond to. Unconsciously tuning into a stress filled environment, their sensing system fills them with pain and echoes the toxins of the environment into their nervous system. Just as a flower wilts when a strong heat source affects it, their identity is shrivelled by the pressure of these toxins. Never understanding what is happening and as a consequence unable to self-regulate their reactions, the body takes over and behaves out of control.
Instead of seeing these behaviours as symptoms and reactions to overwhelming subtle sensorial stimuli that need to be reduced, we assume that those who cannot conform to the behavioural norms and standards of our dominant culture are deviant and/or ill. All too often, a common story of disability and madness is associated with behaviours related to sensitive senses. Frequently, this can lead to HSC experiencing deep forms of self-loathing, self-doubt and in some cases, trauma in places like home, schools or hospitals where a disembodied intellect is expected and where, in order to cope with a sensitive body, children have to learn to suppress their senses.
But from a sensory perspective, this suppression means that we are hindering these children’s abilities to develop healthy ways to cope. Without these, we may be turning some of our most talented people into adults who have no means to adjust or learn how to use the power of their heightened senses without being overwhelmed or feeling inadequate. In the process, we may be condemning them to an adulthood of extreme behaviours such as suicide, addictions, and other harmful ways of dealing with what they have been taught to consider as inadequacies, and reinforcing a type of systemic discrimination that has led to what I am beginning to understand as a form of sensorial genocide.
It is important to develop sensory processing literacy for both children and adults. Part of the nurturing of children’s senses is to become aware of what can be toxic to them: understanding the hidden codes of sensory languages, helping children decode their moods as tied to food sensitivities and reaction as much as to other people’s feelings and space, helping them to filter the negative energies and absorb the positives, learning to “sense” and use it to their advantage instead of being overwhelmed by it.
Dealing with stressors in highly sensitive children is an urgent issue as, when not acknowledge or understood, the invisible and often subtle forces that affect these children can create tremendous stress in their lives and can have dire consequences on their health. Scientists are beginning to demonstrate that activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain, as we will explore in more depth in chapter 6, that may result in mental disorders (Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum, 2014)[xix]. Could this explain the rise of mental “disorders” in our contemporary society? High levels of hidden stress in children leading to a rewiring of the brain that disable them in the long term?
As the parent of two highly sensitive children, I am very aware of the real challenges posed by sensory processing issues and it is clear that this is an area of investigation that needs to be explored, for parents, by parents. What began as a literature review on media and autism morphed into research on sensory processing and highly sensitive people (HSP). The results of this work have initiated the writing of this book. This book is difficult for me to explain as it is both influenced by previous work with Dr. Jason Nolan on children and their use of media and by my own interest in sensory processing and HSP, which emerged out of issues my family has been facing.
The book has four parts. While it can be read sequentially, each section addresses a specific area of enquiry. The first part focuses on cultural and historical aspects of our (mis)understanding of the senses. This section is intended to explore how deeply rooted our sensory and spatial prejudices are. The second section explores sensory health and a potential framework to think about what a child is experiencing from a spatial and sensory perspective. The third part examines ways to create a sensory diet by using sensory health solutions but also incorporating 21st century technologies. And the final section explores how we as a society could re-introduce space and a broader understanding of the senses within our own culture.
I hope this research will be useful to others who are going through a similar process, having decided to rebuild and move forward trying to create sustainable lives both physically, emotionally, mentally, environmentally, socially and economically, instead of destroying what makes them and their children unique. We hold within ourselves the potential for tremendous change and the key to helping highly sensitive children thrive in an increasingly toxic world.
 Summary by Aron (2006): “A functional study comparing brain activation in Asians recently arrived in the United States to European-Americans found that in the nonsensitive, different areas were activated according to culture during a difficult discrimination task known to be affected by culture, but culture had no impact on the activated areas for highly sensitive subjects, as if they were able to view the stimuli without cultural influence.”
 While many animals are sensitive to specific stimuli, it seems that others demonstrate a broader sensitivity, plasticity, or flexibility. For example, Sih and Bell (2008) wrote that enough examples exist “to suggest that individual difference in environmental and social sensitivity is common, potentially quite important, and worthy of further study” (p. 16). Dingemanse and colleagues (2009) provide an integrative model for observing personality traits (e.g., shy, bold, aggressive, nonaggressive) that in some species or individuals are inflexible and completely specific to context but in other cases are flexible, occurring in some contexts and not in others, according to its usefulness, so that the underlying trait in these cases would be being sensitive enough to know when to be sensitive—suggesting layers of processing.
 The EDGE Lab is funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation. Research projects in the lab are funded by: SSHRC, MITACS, The School of Early Childhood Education’s SRC Committee, Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund, the OCE Interact program, NCE and GRAND.
[i] Bunim, Juliana (2013). Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids, University of California San Francisco, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi
[ii] Bunim, Juliana (2013). Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids, University of California San Francisco, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi
[iv] Bunim, Juliana (2013). Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders in Kids, University of California San Francisco, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/07/107316/breakthrough-study-reveals-biological-basis-sensory-processing-disorders-kidsi
[v] Aron, Elaine and Aron, Arthur. 1997. Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and its Relation to Introversion and Emotionality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Aug. 1997 Vol. 73, No. 2, pp. 345–368. (WebCite archive).
[vi] Jung, C. (1913). ‘The theory of psychoanalysis’. CW 4. And JUNG, C (1916). ‘Psychoanalysis and neurosis’. CW 4.
[vii] Aron, E.N. (2006). “The Clinical Implications of Jungs Concept of Sensitiveness”. Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice 8: 11–43.
[viii] Ketay, S., Hedden, T., Aron, A., Aron, E., Markus, H., & Gabrieli, G. (2007, January). The personality/temperament trait of high sensitivity: fMRI evidence for independence of cultural context in attentional processing. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Memphis, TN.
[ix] Brodt, S.; Zimbardo, P. (1981). “Modifying Shyness-Related Social Behavior Through Symptom Misattribution”. Journal of Personality and Society Psychology 41 (3): 437–49. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.527
[x] Kagan, J. 1994 Galen’s prophecy. New York: Basic Books.
[xi] Aron, Elaine and Aron, Arthur. 1997. Sensory-Processing Sensitivity and its Relation to Introversion and Emotionality, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Aug. 1997 Vol. 73, No. 2, pp. 345–368. (WebCite archive).
[xii] Wolf, M., Van Doorn, S., & Weissing, F. J. (2008). Evolutionary emergence of responsive and unresponsive personalities. PNAS, 105(41), 15825-15830.
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