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Labels Part III Highly Sensitive People or ADD

Sensitivity is beautifulIn my first post Labeled Part I,  I referenced my daughter who was told at age 15 that she was ADD by the only means of diagnosis, a psychiatrist.  After unsuccessful attempts at multiple ADD medications over a two year span she went off to college without her medication.

We located a therapist in Chicago where she attended school, as she still struggled with trichotillomania which started around the time of taking the first round of ADD medication.  After several visits with the therapist and her sharing of the unsuccessful attempts at being medicated, the psychologist concluded that he believed she never had ADD.  He believed she was HSP, the acronym for Highly Sensitive People.

She called me that evening after her appointment and having never heard of this I did some research. Google had a few sites that helped me to understand this new label.  One site www.hsperson.com was of particular interest.  It is interesting to know that 15-20% of the population are considered HSP. I thought about this figure and realized that this may be a larger percentage of the population if people knew about it to begin with.  I also wondered how many other adults and children may have been wrongly labeled ADD or ADHD, as this is not widely known.

As a child my daughter was unique in that she was extra sensitive to textures in both clothing and in food.  She, being my third child, I just accepted these peculiar traits  as her little *thing*.  I had to remove tags from most of her clothing. Food was another issue, as she had trouble with things that didn’t smell good to her . Meat was especially difficult for her to eat as she was sensitive to textures.  She also disliked foods that were mixed together and we would have to be sure that the food didn’t touch each other.

Other interesting things I noticed and just assumed it was her idiosyncrasy was her sensitivity to sounds. We would listen to music and from age three  she would be able to mimic many of the popular singers. As she grew older she would stop me and tell me to listen closely for this little subtle part that the average ear wouldn’t be able to hear. Once she pointed it out to me, I could then pay attention and hear it. Amazed by this, I knew at an early age this was a gift.

On other occasions while at a popular childrens venue called Chuckie Cheese, I noticed a phenomenon where she became overly excited, almost hyper-ventilating as she ran from game to game.  As all childrens venue’s this was a noisy place with sounds of bells, loud children, games, pinball machines and music.  I witnessed her cheeks becoming red and she was panting when she came up to me to get more tokens for the machine. Concerned about how she appeared, I had her sit down for a moment to calm down.

Another  interesting behavior was the need for me to warn her of any change in her schedule.  What I mean by this is, if she was busily playing in her room and I needed to go to the store for an ingredient for dinner I could not just go up to her room and say lets go.  It was not at all received well and she would throw a fit more than the average child who wouldn’t want to leave what they were doing.  She quickly trained me to give her ample notice before pulling her away from whatever she had been engrossed in.  The warning would be verbally delivered and I would say to her “we are going to the store  and you have 10 minutes”.  At the five minute mark I would do the same, and let her know that she had five minutes, then three, two and then right now. This was such a better way to have a peaceful and happy child.

When the therapist in Chicago told her that he thought she was HSP and while on the phone with my daughter that evening were were both astonished at the  the set of characteristics that HSP have and what I experienced with her as well as what she experiences. I’ll share a few of the traits from the website and credit the doctor who has done so much research on this set of personality traits.

Dr. Elaine Aron PHD –Highly Sensitive People are…

  • More aware of subtleties because their brain process information and reflects on it more deeply.  HSP see more than the average person.
  • Easily overwhelmed because they notice everything and becoming overly stimulated when things are too intense, complex or overly chaotic.
  • Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures where it is not valued HSP’s can have low self esteem.
  • Other research has shown that HSP’s, due to their ability to take in sights, sounds, smells and emotions can often be labeled and misdiagnosed with ADD.  One example was explained to me that if a Highly Sensitive person walks into a party they will notice all at once, the vase with the flowers and will think  “I wonder who arranged those?” While at the same time sense the mood in the room, take in the smell and sound.  While all of this is going on it would be interesting to try to focus on one thing, and where I believe the assumption that she had ADD came from.

I encourage you to visit the website where you will find a self test.  It offers you the adult as well as a checklist for parents of  children.  The checklist can assist you in determining if your child is HSP.

The good news is no medication is needed. After my experience with my daughter, I am wondering how many others are medicating their children when they may have a unique set of traits and gifts that can be easily managed once you understand them.  I also want to entertain the idea that these children with their gifts for observation may be part of the divine plan to change our world in so many beautiful ways.  They may be a special type of empath which the psychiatrists haven’t readily endorsed.

I  am happy to report my daughter is entering her senior year in college and has a 3.9 GPA.  Her degree will be in Performance Art Management, with music as the focus.  We can drop the ADD label and now that she understands herself.  She is attracting similar friends to her circle who have similar goals, beliefs and traits.  She is spiritually connected to the universe and this path seems to have made all the difference in wrapping her arms around herself and embracing her uniqueness.

I encourage your thoughts on this subject, especially questions about how to understand the needs of Highly Sensitive children.  I wish I had known this set of traits existed when she was small.  As I mentioned earlier, if you allow it  they will teach you what you need to know.  If you think you would be interested in a group coaching or tele-class on learning how to be supportive of your extra special children please put that in your post as well.  It is something I and another coach are considering to offer others.

One Response to Labels Part III Highly Sensitive People or ADD

  • Kathy Jordan says:

    The only symptom that sounds like ADD was the difficulty with making transitions from one activity to another, and that is not limited to ADD. My daughter definitely had ADD. Had 2 good neuropsych evaluations that confirmed ii, not to mention that she clearly acted ADD. Medication was a life saver which she took through college.

    I wish your daughter the best. I’m so happy that with an accurate diagnosis, she now has an opportunity to nurture herself and arrange her environment as much as possible so that it supports her, rather than drive her crazy

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