The confusion of health professionals regarding diagnosis leaves parents and educators at a loss in regards to how best help highly sensitive children. Many people understand different sensory processing capacities as a disease and/or as something that needs to be cured. As Dr. Gabor Maté explains in his book When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, the use of drugs and often counterproductive learning strategies can lead to more damage to these children who cannot properly understand the world without the use of their heightened senses. Such an approach often leads to a gradual decline in mental health of these children who eventually become dysfunctionning adults, unable to deal properly with their sensory reality who turn to unhealthy coping mechanism such as addictions in an attempt to cope and reduce the constant sensorial stress they are experiencing[i].
As the parent of two children with special needs, I was very aware of the real challenges posed by sensory processing issues and it became clear that this is an area of investigation that needs to be addressed. It is clear to me that we need to develop sensory processing literacy for both children and adults, and that digital media can help.
I knew that there are ways to help these children thrive, but that it requires us to understand and address these children’s sensorial needs as positive and fundamental traits that are part of a healthy life. Unfortunately, it meant to go against the mainstream ideas of health, given that the senses are not recognized as essential to health in our western disembodied culture that worships the mind at the expenses of the senses in how we perceive the world. Key to helping children with sensory processing issues is also understanding media as a way for them to learn about social life without sensory overload, again going against a majority of literature on the use of media with children which is often negative.
I decided to take my children for half a year to a small fishing village in Nicaragua. During this time, I de-schooled the children. 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. 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 a de-schooled digital society.
I used my sabbatical to explore sensory processing issues. 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 has initiated the writing of a 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.
This book is 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 sensorial lives. I hope this can 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, mentally, environmentally, socially and economically, instead of destroying what makes them and their children unique.
The work is entitled: The highly sensitive family: How to thrive in a toxic world. It is aimed to be a theory hybrid which examines cultural roots of our disembodied culture and some of its consequences on our health and explores educational solutions to re-introduce sensory literacy in our culture. But it is also aimed at parents who are struggling to find answers for their children’s sensorial problems.