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Behaviour, Book, Children, highly sensitive person, HSChildren, HSP Issues, Overwhelmed, Parenting HSC, Sensitivities

Finding our Highly Sensitive Voice: Building Sensory Literacy


Deep listening to highly sensitive children allowed me to deal with life from their perspective and to become their advocate. This process is important, as we model for them how to communicate their specific needs, they will develop the vocabulary to built their own voice and eventually advocate for their own needs.

Building sensory literary will help reducing the stress caused by sensory over or under-stimulation. The goal is to develop an inner voice that can set limits, and makes it ok to have different needs and to operate at our own rhythm and with self-respect. Learning to take a stand and ask others to respect sensory needs is essential to increasing self-esteem.

A life diet that respect characteristics of the HSP and gifted traits and considers the senses can be a great way to help children built sensory literacy. On one hand, it can help to reframe highly sensitive children’s behaviours and issues by first considering them and eventually becoming able to discern when they are manifestations of sensory processing sensitivity, over-excitability, asynchronic development, positive disintegration and/or gifted intensity. On the other hand, it can help children built the tools they need for self-regulation and self-awareness.

Sensory Diet As Seeds of Sensory Awareness

A great way to begin the process of building sensory literacy is to create a sensory diet for your child. I have found that sensory diets have been crucial to the changes in my children. An occupation therapist helped me understand the unique sensory challenge each of my children was facing and help me design a sensory diet. She helped me understand how my children’s sensory system work, first step in helping them develop coping strategies.

The OT allowed me to become aware of which senses are affected by defensiveness and seeking behaviours and introduce activities that work towards rebalancing them. When their needs are met, my children thrive, while an imbalance in health tends to accentuate adhd and/or autism type of behaviours.

Giving children lots of good sensory input to helps developing muscles and joints and a sense of balance and equilibrium, and improve the ability to receive, interpret, and integrate sensory input. A child may concentrate better after jumping on a trampoline, being wrapped tightly in a blanket, or having a good long session on a swing. He/she may even be able to listen better while doing these things. A balance ball at the computer can help a child constantly moving his/her body. It can help with posture and building core strength.

Physical Diet For Chemical Regulation

My children have very different sensory needs, which also change with time. One is hypo-sensitive, the other hypersensitive. One needs a skin brushing regularly as well as massages to reduce skin overstimulation. He also needs extra mental stimulation, which he gets via media and talks with adults. He still has social anxieties around new activities, for sports I let him decide which sport to engage with. My other son needs to move all day and can’t stand skin brushing or massages. . For him, physical play is the great way to stimulate the senses. We spend a lot of time outside, in the park. Going to the park, is a great way to get physical activity and stimulate the skin. There is not fit all solution.
When an anxiety attack occurs, it floods your body with adrenaline—a chemical produced by your body that causes your heart to beat faster, muscles to tighten, and various other body sensations that feel distressing. Fortunately, burning off adrenaline is easy to do—a quick jog around the neighbourhood will provide instant relief.

Almost any type of aerobic exercise will effectively burn off adrenaline and provide you with relief from symptoms related to stress and anxiety. In addition to jogging, you can try taking a long, fast walk, dancing, jumping rope, or playing a game of tennis.

Exercise is a great way to relieve your anxiety. According to Rebecca Howell, Education Consultant at the National Association for Gifted Children in the UK, Young gifted children can suffer from Psychomotor Overexcitability, characterised by surplus energy due to enhanced excitability of the neuromuscular system. These children can be very active, always on the go and wanting to be constantly engaged in an activity. Teachers often complain that these children fidget a lot, shout out in class and don’t seem to be listening (minds wander when not fully engaged).
For some children it can actually be very uncomfortable to have to sit still or for their activity to be restricted. With this understanding should come a more positive viewpoint of the behaviour and less criticism for it, leading to greater self esteem for the child.

Young gifted children who are very active need a lot of exercise so it is best to build this into a routine for them by taking up a regular activity or using family time to get out and about. Opportunities to run around should never be missed and break times offer the perfect time for both exercise and creativity. If the child has sat still for a while, whether this be at an adult’s request or voluntarily, they will need to expend some energy in physical activity to be able to act calmly and do what is asked of them.

A physical diet does not feel like one. With a young child, it can be a game based approach. Games that promote coordinated movements, such as slithering, crawling, wheelbarrow, walking, running, skipping, hopping, jumping. Agility drills, rhythm games.\

A sensory diet is composed of physical exercises designed to balance the senses. With a young child, it can be a game based approach. Games that promote coordinated movements, such as slithering, crawling, wheelbarrow, walking, running, skipping, hopping, jumping. Agility drills, rhythm games. Such a diet will be unique for each child.

According to Rebecca Howell, Education Consultant at the National Association for Gifted Children in the UK, Young gifted children can suffer from Psychomotor Overexcitability, characterised by surplus energy due to enhanced excitability of the neuromuscular system. These children can be very active, always on the go and wanting to be constantly engaged in an activity. Teachers often complain that these children fidget a lot, shout out in class and don’t seem to be listening (minds wander when not fully engaged). For some children it can actually be very uncomfortable to have to sit still or for their activity to be restricted. With this understanding should come a more positive viewpoint of the behaviour and less criticism for it, leading to greater self-esteem for the child.

Young gifted children who are very active need a lot of exercise so it is best to build this into a routine for them by taking up a regular activity or using family time to get out and about. Opportunities to run around should never be missed and break times offer the perfect time for both exercise and creativity. If the child has sat still for a while, whether this be at an adult’s request or voluntarily, they will need to expend some energy in physical activity to be able to act calmly and do what is asked of them.

My children for example have very different sensory needs, which also change with time. One is hypo-sensitive, the other hypersensitive. One needs a skin brushing regularly as well as massages to reduce skin overstimulation. He also needs extra mental stimulation, which he gets via media and talks with adults. He still has social anxieties around new activities, for sports I let him decide which sport to engage with. My other son needs to move all day and can’t stand skin brushing or massages. . For him, physical play is the great way to stimulate the senses. We spend a lot of time outside, in the park. Going to the park, is a great way to get physical activity and stimulate the skin. There is not fit all solution.

In addition, physical exercise is a great way to relieve anxieties. When an anxiety attack occurs, it floods your body with adrenaline—a chemical produced by your body that causes your heart to beat faster, muscles to tighten, and various other body sensations that feel distressing. Fortunately, burning off adrenaline is easy to do—a quick jog around the neighbourhood will provide instant relief. Almost any type of aerobic exercise will effectively burn off adrenaline and provide you with relief from symptoms related to stress and anxiety. In addition to jogging, you can try taking a long, fast walk, dancing, jumping rope, or playing a game of tennis.

Mindfulness As A Self-regulation Sensory Literacy Tool

Another approach to sensory literacy, that can help children learn how to self-regulate their sensory needs, is mindfulness. In the article “The Parents Guide to Teaching Mindfulness to Your Anxious Child”, Rich Presta explains that:
“Mindfulness is a way of being in the world that incorporates an acute attention to your senses and everything around you, a sense of balance that leads to a steadiness in both the mind and heart, and a dose of compassion, both for yourself and again for everything around you. It is a place that features awareness without judgment; there is no good or bad, no right or wrong, no gorgeous or ugly – there just is.”

Mindfulness is different from meditation in that it does not strive to achieve a higher state of consciousness. Here are some of the benefits pointed out by authors Karen Hooker and Iris Fodor in their report “Teaching Mindfulness to Children”. Mindfulness can benefit the anxious child by: bringing attention back to the present, away from worries of the future; reducing stress; teaching them to identify, become aware of and accept emotions, rather than simply be consumed by them; allowing them to practice awareness and acceptance without judgment; improving their memory simply by improving their ability to pay attention; enhancing their ability to focus and learn and letting them experience and understand their thinking process and how their mind works, both of which can lead to a greater understanding of self and their personal experiences in the world .

Food Diet For Behaviour Regulator

A hard lesson for me has been to recognize nutritional stress. Without giving your body proper nutrition, it has no way to defend itself physically or mentally. Eating foods that are bad for you, or not eating enough, isn’t healthy. It only serves to raise the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. When you take steps to manage the physical side of your life through diet and environment over 50% of stress disappears.
According to Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, our emotions have much to do with our body and the food we eat. When an animal or plant is grown using chemicals and in inhuman conditions, they become stressed, angry, fearful and diseased. When we eat unhappy food, we become unhappy. When we eat happy food, we become happy. It has been important for me to work out a strategy of eating that considers these potential hidden stresses.
Consider this, according to the AUDI, Autism Network for Dietary Intervention:

“In a study conducted by Dr. Timothy Buie, a pediatric gastroenterologist from Harvard/Mass General hospital, forty-six patients between the ages of 5 and 31 were selected for inclusion in a study based on a diagnosis placing them in the category of the autism spectrum disorders, ADD and ADHD. Their diets were supplemented with a dietary enzyme formulation. The results: The enzyme formula beneficially and safely affected all thirteen of the parameter measured. Improvements ranged from 50-90% depending on the parameters measured. The enzyme was effective at improving the symptoms such as socialization, hyperactivity, attention, eye contact, comprehension and compulsions.” (AUDI, 2012)

Our belly also has a profound impact on our sensorial health and some hyperkinetic behaviours can be helped with nutrition. According to MD Lawrence Wilson calcium, magnesium and zinc are deficient on the tissue mineral analyses of many ADHD children. Supplementation with these minerals alone may occasionally end hyperkinetic behaviours. But often, an unhealthy gut can lead to malnutrition even with the use of a vitamin supplement. There is no point taking a supplement if digestion is not working properly.

Before any food can help, the gut must be dealt with. Thus the importance of discussing with a naturopath how to rebalance the gut. In my family, enzymes did the trick. Once the gut has been healed than a proper diet can be created. More important than supplements, a nutrition based on a diet of clean foods can be very helpful.

Studies have shown that a diet consisting of raw fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy fats found in foods like raw nuts, avocado and coconut oil, may have positive effects on mental health. While avoiding caffeine, alcohol, sugar and processed foods can reduce your risk of mental health problems.

Slowly, my family has learned to eat daily dietary consumption consists primarily of organic fruits and vegetables, quality meat and fish. Quality does not mean organic food. Some items need to be organic but others do not which makes our diet affordable. Check out the 12 dirty dozen list to know which fruit/veggies need to be organic.

One way to get a good start to the day is with a berries and protein smoothie that includes chia seeds and flaxseed, their omega 3s help with depression. I hide avocado, enzyme mineral and vitamin supplement in the smoothie as well. Vitamins A, D, E, and K play a vital role in mental health. They can be found in foods like kale, spinach, carrots, lemons, oranges, and beets and parsley, cilantro, ginger and turmeric into his juices for added health benefits.

Here are some foods that Alejandra Carrasco, M.D. considers we should eat often:
Avocados are a great source of healthy, monounsaturated fat. They’re high in fiber, B-vitamins, folic acid and potassium.
Berries are they are full of health-promoting antioxidants such as anthocyanins, but they’re also effective at inhibiting dangerous biofilms in the gut.
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage have high levels of isothiocyanates, which are cancer-preventive and have anti-carcinogenic properties. The isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetables trigger genetic changes that turn on cancer-fighting genes and turn off tumor-producing genes.
Coconut Oil is nature’s richest source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are easily digested and sent directly to your liver, where they’re converted directly into energy rather than stored as fat. Coconut oil also contains high levels of lauric acid, which has impressive antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are a great source of gut-friendly, beneficial bacteria. They help combat seasonal allergies, eczema, depression, and irritable bowel to name a few.
Green are incredibly nutrient dense, but new research suggests that they help combat food allergies and inflammatory diseases. They also protect you from cancer and aid in maintaining a healthy intestinal balance by promoting the proliferation of beneficial bacteria.

My children often refuse to eat greens, I use a protein smoothie power that has green supplements as well. Paleo diet recipes can be adapted and make great gluten free, dairy free, wheat free, egg free food that taste very good.
Healthy snack bars recipe
This is a bar I can send to school with my children which is very nutritious and taste amazing.
½ cup Almond flour
½ cup Coconut powder
Raisins
1 tsp Flax seeds
1 tsp Sesame seeds or paste
2 tbsp Coconut oil
½ bar of organic unsweetened Chocolate
1 tps Chia seeds
½ cup Amaranth Cereal
Honey to taste
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract (organic)
2 Dates

Combine all the dry elements; use a blender to reduce them to a powder. Melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler. Combine to the dried mixture as well as with the honey. Mix well. Put in a dish, flatten and refrigerate overnight. By the next morning you can cut the mixture into bars.

Sensory Friendly Therapies

Finally, including sensory friendly healing modalities can help a highly sensitive child learn how to relax and care for his or her sensory balance. Ancient health systems therapies can be an important part of a sensory friendly life diet. Most of these ancient forms of subtle healing correspond to the cultivation of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels of health via different senses. Many of these therapies can gently, safely, unobtrusively and quickly soothe some of the issues highly sensitive children face.
Aromatherapy is now being used in autism therapy and in my personal experience, is helpful to reduce anxieties and some sensory processing issues. One advantage of this healing approach is that when done properly it is not invasive and almost unnoticed by children. The difference in behaviours is however quite drastic. My eldest son now asks for aromatherapy massages when tired or overwhelmed.

He is not alone. In Eastern cultures, massage has been practiced continually since ancient times. Ayurveda still places great emphasis on the therapeutic benefits of massage with aromatic oils and spices. It is still practiced very widely in India. Massage may be the oldest and simplest form of medical care.

Aromatherapy massages are a great way to quicken the elimination of chemical toxins from the body. Particularly stress hormones toxins. Some essential oils are very helpful in reducing sensory processing sensitivities.

Acupuncture is another traditional Chinese medical technique involving the use of needles to manipulate a person’s Qi for the purpose of re-establishing balance between the opposing force of yin and yang in them. Evidence of the use of acupuncture goes back at least 4,000 years in China.

Finally, sound and dance therapy are other forms of therapy that have in common to be based on the idea that the body is a system of energy and flows that need to be balanced.

A sensory friendly life diet is something that we can develop in the long-term. But what can we do when a child is in crisis?

Previous: Deep Listening: Connecting to the Senses and Emotions

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