Highly sensitive children look the same on the outside as other kids. But inside, they are wired differently, and their processing is dissimilar. They handle and react to situations differently, and many parents don’t know how to address these challenges. These beautiful children can give and receive love, but they often need more guidance and direction to manage their disabilities.
An HS child can be aggressive, energetic, relentless, and passionate all in the same day. Though these kids are incredibly wise and sympathetic, life as you know it has many challenges and limits for them. Dealing with this kid can be overwhelming for the parent. But it would help if you considered what the child is feeling inside that is causing these behaviors.
Have you ever been in a grocery store and observed a parent struggling to quiet their child? It never fails; no matter what time of day you go, at least one kid is having a complete meltdown. Rather than casting judgment on the parents trying their hardest to calm the child, look at things through a different set of lenses.
These kids often have a fit, not because they can’t have a new toy because their senses are overloaded. A person on a high sensory overload can experience terrorizing feelings from the beeping of the cash registers, the rustling of many shopping cartwheels, and the low roar from the chattering of people nearby.
The child is often young and cannot tell you exactly how they feel, yet the only way they communicate is by their behaviors. Regularly, that screaming child who appears to be undisciplined is struggling, and they don’t know any other way to tell their parents than to fall to pieces.
Ten Signs Displayed in Highly Sensitive Children
Diagnosing a sensory input issue is not always easy. The first symptoms are hyperactivity, temper tantrums, and other typical behaviors of ADHD. To further confuse things, ADHD is also a neurological disorder that can mimic some of the issues of HS, according to an article published in Scary Symptoms.
Since the prevalence of ADHD has grown, doctors feel safe giving this diagnosis to children who fit the diagnostic criteria. However, it takes a doctor attuned to the patient to understand that the child is in sensory overload. If you think your child may have this condition or has already been diagnosed, here are symptoms you may observe.
1. Highly Sensitive Children Often Analyze (Overthink!) Everything
To protect themselves from the world around them, highly sensitive children become processors. Their little brains are constantly working and analyzing everything to keep them safe. They can notice minor things, even a change in the tone of your voice. While this analyzing gift is helpful in some areas, it can also mean that they get overwhelmed more easily.
2. Fearful of New Situations and Changes
When it comes to significant changes, like moving to a new classroom, highly sensitive children will resist. They have a comfort zone that they’ve developed to keep themselves safe, and they will cling to those comforts for assurance. New situations bring intense anxiety, and they may ruminate on questions internally like:
- Where am I?
- Who are all these people?
- Will they be kind to me or mean?
- How do I know if they will like me?
- Am I safe here, or should I be worried?
- Can I do what these people expect of me?
They will be on edge with new situations, sending them into overdrive. It’s imperative to help prepare an HS child well in advance to make them comfortable with changes.
3. Emotional Extremes Often Display in Highly Sensitive Children
The HS child will experience continuous emotional extremes. While stubbing a toe might be something another kid can shake off, the highly sensitive child will feel this much deeper. Their feelings and experiences are wired to feel quite different from a fully functioning neurological system.
Many parents of these children recognize that they can be elated or enraged, and there’s no happy medium. This child tends to live at extremes, making life quite chaotic. They can be pretty demanding of their parents’ times while other children get pushed to the sidelines.
4. Prone to Perfectionism
Highly sensitive children are sore losers by nature, as they tend to be perfectionists. Their brain tells them that things need to be one way, and when they have a moment where they feel like they’re losing control, they cannot cope. Constructive criticism comes across as criticism, and they feel shame in greater magnitudes than most kids.
5. Highly Senitive Children Might Be Extra Self-conscious and Easily Slighted
The highly sensitive child often feels easily slighted. They tend to be more self-conscious than other kids, and they’re always worried about how others see them. They don’t like to be the center of attention, whether for good or bad issues.
6. Experience Extreme Emotions When Being Corrected
If the HS child gets into trouble, they will feel like you’re personally coming down on them. They don’t see it as you’re correcting them or offering guidance. When faced with this perceived rejection, they may start laughing, become intensely angry, or run to avoid this confrontation.
While you may feel infuriated when a child is laughing in your face, they’re using it as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from the flood of emotions they’re feeling.
7. Enhanced Sensory Input Reactions
Since highly sensitive children have different internal wiring, their emotions make them more susceptible to the sensory response. Though the lights in the doctor’s office might not bother you, they can be blinding to a child with HS. Things like the automatic flushing toilet in the restroom at the mall may terrify them, and they may avoid bathrooms because of it.
If a food has a strong smell that they find unpleasant, they won’t even try it before turning it away. Clothes are another significant issue for the HS child. They prefer the comfort of things like sweatpants and will have a complete temper tantrum when you try to put them in scratchy jeans. These kids feel overwhelmed with sensations they can’t cope with effectively, intensifying their emotional responses.
8. Low Tolerance for Frustration
These kids have a lower tolerance for frustration as they’re attuned to the world around them as they know it. They will often experience distress when tackling a task they cannot accomplish, like learning to ride a bike. While you know that you must work to master a new skill, they see this as an unreachable goal that furthers frustration.
They may refuse to ride a bike because the risks make their sensory issues increase.
9. Rigid and Inflexible Behaviors Are Often Seen in Highly Sensitive Children
HS children don’t like their schedule or anything around them to be interrupted. To make their life more manageable, they rely on things to be rigid. While things come across to you as irrational demands to have a specific type of socks or foods that doesn’t touch one another on the plate, it’s how they cope with their situation.
These little mechanisms help them bring order to a world that seems so out of order to them.
10. Meltdowns Due to Stress
Some kids are more prone to temper tantrums and meltdowns because of sensitivity issues. Any stress can trigger them, and when they feel overwhelmed, their reactions are often oversized. These tantrums can be intense and leave both parent and child physically exhausted.
Final Thoughts on Highly Sensitive Children
While highly sensitive children seem few and far between, it’s actually more common than what you might imagine. According to Parenting for Brain, it occurs in around fifteen to twenty percent of the population. The problem is that many children go undiagnosed because it’s easier to put labels on them like ADHD rather than to dive deeper into what’s going on neurologically.
Another thing to consider is that many adults have sensory processing disorders that they’ve had since childhood. These adults often didn’t get the help or diagnosis they needed as a child, especially since attention to this issue is relatively new.
Whether it’s in a child or an adult, the signals sent to the brain to process things get misinterpreted. The blanket that doesn’t have a silk-lined edge might be bearable to most people, but it’s unbearable and scratchy to the HS person. This individual lives in the same world as you, but it’s perceived in an entirely different manner.
Dealing with highly sensitive children and their sensory input issues can be quite taxing. The meltdowns are frequent, and the inability for change makes things a challenge. A parent must become educated on how to help their child and view things through their eyes.
One of the best tools to help people understand sensory processing issues is posted by The Autism Site. Once you view this video and observe the overwhelming sounds and sights for the person with processing issues, it can help you understand what your child might be experiencing.