Considering space as vital to sensory health leads to examine the role of the environment on a child’s sensory experience. Consequently, understanding a highly sensitive child’s sensory health requires “detective” work since what is toxic can be without matter, form, odour, visual, or other clues we are used to recognize. All of the experiences of a child with a family, the world and technology provide the senses with multitudes of sensory inputs. This complex landscape of stimuli informs the child of his/her existence in the world. Often, a child is not capable of understanding where he/she begins and where the world ends. This confusion can create distress in a child who cannot articulate the effect of toxicity on his/her sense of being. If you are ticklish, imagine these invisible forces tickling you constantly without any way of expressing your discomfort. Imagine not having the words to say this tickling is too strong and the adults around you not even knowing what tickling is. This is the dilemma heightened senses can create in a child.
It is essential for parents to help children determine the sensory boundaries that exist in space and through the senses. The simple acknowledgment of a sensory spatial dimension would be the first step in developing social and cultural learning focused on sensory experiences and on developing the literacy necessary to interpret spatial communication signals and to develop vocabulary to describe them. Such a step would allow children to be able to discuss sensory discomfort instead of them relying on external behaviours, “over” or “under” reactions, as the only communication tool available to express their distress.
Helping sensory gifted individuals who do not belong to cultures that acknowledge their uniqueness, means relearning the language of the senses and how to communicate through them. As society at large is unaware of these issues, it is up to us, parents and adults who are involved with these children to help them rediscover their gifts in a positive way, developing sensory self-awareness in order to be able to self-regulate their senses, key to self-care, and to understand and reflect on their position in spatial social life. All these steps are crucial to being able to be with others in a healthy way. But in the end, how we understand heightened sensory experiences and other sensitivities is a choice.
The prevailing idea of the last few centuries has been to let the outside world shape who we are. The rise in ADHD, autism and other child related mental “disorders” represent a dangerous testimony to the long-term damage this logic is having on some of our children. Our children are being stressed by our methods to the point of mental distress and eventually illness. This is a form of cultural genocide that in the end will only bring more trauma to our lives.
Another approach, which is growing in popularity, is to help children grow from the inside out. To let their being slowly adjust to the world they are in, to help them develop their own self awareness, and to help them build self-esteem and self-reliance. This approach means accepting that their development will take time and does not necessarily follow a standard path. This means redefining many ways of looking at our environment, parenting, care giving, social and spatial life and schooling.
We can choose to see these children’s enhanced sensory communication systems as disorders or natural abilities; as something to be cured or something to be accommodated and developed. The use of drugs and now genetic therapy being developed to regulate children’s behaviours seem like very dangerous paths to follow. First because we do not understand the long term effects of these modalities on children, and second because drug intervention stop children from learning and develop the self-awareness of spatial communication necessary to understand and develop the self-regulating skills and sensory, mental and physical tools they need to live a healthy and lucid adult life.
We as parents are face with a difficult choice, to continue to train our children to social and cultural values that will disembody them, repress their gifts and move them away from their true nature, or to insure our lives are designed to help them grow into who they are and develop strategies suited to their uniqueness.
With a hsc health framework in place, it can become possible to think of approaches to help highly sensitive children be more attuned to their needs and specificities. A gentler approach can help them begin to explore their own experiences without fear of being considered ill. Adopting a health model for highly sensitive people and sensory processing sensitive people that is based on sensorial and sensitivities literacy may be very helpful. The framework described in this chapter is intended to help us and our children develop sensory literacy and the development of self-organizing mind, sensorial, emotional “sight” tools. In the last part of this book, we will examine what we can do in life, media, education and communities to reintroduce sensory wellness. In the next chapter, we will begin by exploring what a sensory life diet can be.