Endings, Changes and New Beginnings

Update from Barbara Allen

It’s been a while since I have updated everyone on the National Centre for High Sensitivity. I have been recovering from exhaustion the last couple of years and therefore had to take steps to limit my workload. We had been working for some time on finding funding that might help expand and underpin the work of the National Centre, however, in combination with other stresses, it became too long a haul in the end for me to be able to see it through. So I made the decision in 2019 to close the National Centre and this has now happened. The website will close shortly in the next couple of weeks, its been left up for a while in case people want to copy any information or resources. We have transferred the HSP Support Directory to this blog, you will find it at: https://nchsnews.wordpress.com/hsp-support-directory/

Even though the National Centre is closing, I think the work involved so far has ensured that high sensitivity has a higher profile than it used to. Ildiko Davis has stepped up to continue the Meetup.com site that we used to promote some of our UK HSP events and she is planning to continue to write for you the HSP News (the ex. newsletter of the NCHS). The Growing Unlimited HSP Hampshire Meetup that I run is still continuing and I will add events to the calendar as and when I am able to. I’m currently offering a fortnightly one-hour opportunity for HSPs to commune online. Most events are happening online now as you know. There are also now many HSP colleagues who are offering HSP events and opportunities for growth and development throughout the UK, for which I am grateful, so do continue to google for these events and join in when you get a chance

In the background in recent months, I have been part of a founding group of experienced HSP professionals, the International Consultants on High Sensitivity, (members of this group are listed on Dr Aron’s website as speakers). This has developed out of a group who attended training in the USA with Dr Elaine Aron. Now that I am recovered, I am still practicing as an HSP Mentor, offering 1-1 support and also support to parents of HSCs. I am still training professionals, although I have tried to keep my practice part-time where possible. If you want to contact me, you can find me on my longstanding personal website at www.growingunlimited.co.uk. I am also still involved with various HSPs who are promoting and leading awareness of our trait ‘out there’ in the UK, Europe and USA. Sadly, due to Covid-19, the HSP Weekend Retreat Jacquelyn Strickland and I planned in Colorado, USA had to be cancelled, but we hope that one day we will be able to recommence this plan and also start planning for a joint event in the UK.

If any of you are interested in research and the science behind Sensory Processing Sensitivity, there is a new website called http://www.sensitivityresearch.com where leading researchers and scientists are listing projects and scientific articles and papers. This website has been created by Michael Pluess and his colleagues, a team of people in the UK who have been doing some important research around high sensitivity. If you are a practitioner or a researcher, you can become a member on the site, take a look, I’m sure there will be something of interest for everyone.

Do keep me updated on what you are doing and if you need any input, let me know – I’ve met hundreds of HSPs through my work in recent years and often wonder how you are doing . The best email for contacting me is hspsensitive@icloud.com.

barbara_allen-wI’m currently taking my own advice and staying in, in a little bolt-hole in Cornwall that I obtained as part of my recovery plans. It has been amazing how much difference this has made to my wellbeing and has underlined once again, just how much quiet-time and contact with nature has the power to revive, re-focus and empower. I will leave you with couple of photos of my restful space above and send you all my warmest wishes for the future. In the meantime, I do wish you all the best in pursuing an authentic work and domestic life as highly sensitive people.

Warmest wishes, Barbara

Barbara Allen
Founder, Growing Unlimited Consultancy
& National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

New Book by Dr. Elaine Aron: THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PARENT

Be Brilliant in Your Role, Even When the World Overwhelms You

I am delighted to report about the publication of Dr. Elaine Aron’s new book for highly sensitive parents, as I am certain that it will be a valued resource for HSPs who are raising children. Highly sensitive parents are parents who have a highly sensitive nervous system, an innate trait that is found in about 20% of the population, in equal numbers of men and women. There are four key characteristics of HSPs:

  • First is that they process all of the information that comes to them more thoroughly than the other 80% do.
  • Second, they are more emotionally responsive and have higher empathy.
  • Third, HSPs notice subtleties that others miss.
  • Finally, because of the other three aspects, they are taking in a lot and become overstimulated more quickly than others.

Because of these characteristics, highly sensitive parents are uniquely attuned to their children, think deeply about every issue affecting their kids, and have strong emotions, both positive and negative, in response to parenting. Because of all of this, they also find parenting far more stressful than parents who are not highly sensitive. The Highly Sensitive Parent is a unique book that offers these parents strategies for handling stressors, as well as relationship issues that arise especially for this group.

It is important to point out that  THE HIGHLY SENSITIVE PARENT is not a parenting book. It is written more for highly sensitive people who are parents to better respond and manage the demands of parenting as well as their own high sensitivity. In short, to become the best possible parent by reducing the overstimulation you are experiencing as an HSP and fitting in more self-care and down time.

Topics covered in The Highly Sensitive Parent include:

  • Coping with Overstimulation – Managing breaks, boundaries, and how to react when it gets overwhelming;
  • Getting Help – Whether it’s from parents, in-laws, teachers, neighbors, or day-care, the idea of help is to be the best parent you can be;
  • Enjoying and Regulating Your Responsiveness – From toddler tantrums to teenage angst, how manage your methods, examine your emotions, and get your rest;
  • Navigating Intensive Social Contact – Teachers, babysitters, doctors, in-laws, your parents, other parents – how to balance setting limits on the types and frequency of your social interactions without putting a damper on your child’s social life or development;
  • Sensitive Parents and Their Partners – Weathering new stressors, from parenting styles and workloads and conflict do’s-and-don’ts (and conflict skills for HSPs);
  • 8 Ways to Make Strengthen the Foundation of Your Parenting Partnership – Don’t miss the chance to repair, grow, and deepen the relationship with your co-parent.

Being a parent is one of the hardest and most valuable job you probably will ever do. As a Highly Sensitive Parent, you have a different set of challenges but also rewards and, the author hopes, an emotionally fulfilling and enriching experience. Not only can your child thrive, but so can you.

See reader reviews and buy this book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D., a clinical and research psychologist, is the internationally bestselling author of The Highly Sensitive Person (translated into 22 languages) and its companion books: The Highly Sensitive Parent, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, The Highly Sensitive Child, and Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person. Credited for first recognizing high sensitivity as an innate trait and pioneering the study of HSPs since 1990, she has established the Foundation for the Study of Highly Sensitive Persons, maintains the website and online resource http://www.HSPerson.com, and has published numerous scientific articles on sensitivity in the leading journals in her field.

This book review is based on excerpts from the Press Release by the Kensington Publishing Corp. provided by Anne Pryor (apryor@kensingtonbooks.com).

When I will have a chance to read the book myself, I will update this review.

Ildiko Davis
HSP Mentor, Counsellor and Focusing Practitioner
Article written by Ildiko Davis (e-mail: ildiko.davis@yahoo.co.uk)

The Normal Needs of Highly Sensitive Children at School

Advice for parents of highly sensitive children who have concerns about their child’s behaviour at school.

 

Many parents of highly sensitive children have concerns about their child’s enjoyment of school. For some of these children, attending school can be extremely challenging and stressful. Parents who are not aware of their child’s sensitive trait may begin to wonder if something is dreadfully wrong. However, once parents have the information they need, there are all kinds of things they can do to give attuned and positive support to a child for whom everything matters and potential is unlimited.

Highly Sensitive ChildOver the years, my practice has become more and more busy with work related to parenting of highly sensitive children. Two types of parents are most common:

(a) parents who are really worried there is something the matter with their children and are worried the child is about to get labelled autistic, ADD or similar and at all costs want to avoid a ‘diagnosis’,

and

(b) parents who already think that their child is highly sensitive (has sensory processing sensitivity) and want to support them. All of these parents are caring and want the best for their children, some might secretly hope that I will find a way to make their child ‘fit in’ with expectations, particularly of their school and also of the larger family group and culture.

Four out of five sensitive children presenting in my practice are boys, which is an interesting statistic when you think that sensory processing sensitivity is distributed equally between the sexes. Children mostly arrive between the ages of 7 and 10, with some as young as 5 and some in their teens. Every single one of these children is causing concern to parents because of their levels of anxiety, exhaustion and distress around their schooling. At home they are calm and happy, the distress being when they start to think about school.

So what’s going on? Well, let’s start with what sensory processing sensitivity actually is. As Dr Elaine Aron describes it, it is a genetically inherited trait, it is normal, and found in up to 20% of the population in varying degrees. Not only is it found in humans in this ratio, but also animals, fruit flies, fish and so on. A characteristic of all beings with sensory processing sensitivity is the ‘pause to check’ trait. In other words, rather than move immediately towards something new, the person or animal with SPS will hang back a little, observe and reflect before entering the new situation. Having a number of any tribe, family, or species born with this trait has a direct effect on survival strategies and success. Some situations demand a quick and direct response, but a minority of situations require thought and consideration before going ahead. If everyone responded the same, then a dangerous choice could wipe out an entire clan. The hanging back, is not shyness or hesitation, it is a positive strategy.

All highly sensitive children have the following four things in common, without exception: depth of processing, a propensity for over-stimulation or over-arousal, emotional intensity and sensory sensitivity. Apart from those things, sensitive children have just as much individuality and variety of traits within them as anyone else. These four factors of the sensitivity trait do however, affect how they respond to the world around them.

Let’s have a look at school from a sensitive child’s perspective. Most of the children I see tell me that school is ‘very loud’, ‘children hurt each other’, ‘teachers shout’ and they are not allowed to ‘be quiet’. They also complain that the days are long, school clothing can be itchy, the floor is hard, the classroom smells funny and people expect them to say things before they are ready. They also dislike people looking at them or making them the centre of attention (even the extravert HSCs) and get very concerned if another child is upset. The walls are full of overstimulating colours and people talk through all the lessons. Considering the four traits of HSCs, school has the potential to be a nightmare, with relentless noise, social interaction, lack of space for quiet reflection and numerous situations that trigger the HSC’s intense emotions. It is no wonder that these children often withdraw at school and have meltdowns when they get home.

So what can parents do to help their child’s school to offer a more HSC-friendly environment? Information is the key, and if necessary some training for teachers on managing sensitive children at school. HSCs need to have a few minutes of quiet time several times a day in order for their sensitive nervous system to calm from the over-stimulating environment. Given that an HSC’s nervous system is highly organised, it is very sad that they often are so over-stimulated that schools sometimes wonder if they have learning difficulties, when the opposite is often the case. Over-stimulation also causes levels of cortisol to rise and regular snacks, especially protein, can help to keep levels down. HSCs are also prone to sudden drops in sugar levels (resulting in feelings of anger and lack of focus), so opportunities to eat more often are very important.

Emotionally, HSCs are very tuned in to their own and others feelings. They cannot quickly recover from wounds and upset that most children simply brush off with ease. This is part of their charm and depth and an essential part of who they are. HSCs also have a strong startle reflex – this means a loud noise or sudden emotional buffeting may cause a big effect. HSCs in general have very quick reflexes, an advantage in some ways, and not in others. This startle reflex does not go away in adulthood and their deep and intense emotional responses mean that bullying in particular (whether physical or emotional), needs to be resolved promptly and permanently. HSCs become highly distressed when witnessing cruelty – rather than trying to ‘toughen them up’, it is important to recognise that part of the role of sensitive individuals in terms of survival is to be the ‘Canary in the mine’ – announcing that something is not right – these warnings cannot be heard if sensitive individuals lose their voice. Rather, encourage them to talk about what distresses them and value their insights into the kind of behaviour that makes the world a better place. Teachers can help with this by being calm and kind authority figures, willing to listen and accepting of sensitivity.

So, going back to the ratio of boys and girls attending my practice – I do think that most of the boys are there because their sensitivity is considered alien within the larger culture. At school, rough playground games, shouting and pushing, competing and dominating are considered normal for boys. Even well-meaning fathers question whether they should allow their sons to cry (even at age 7), or give them hugs or pull them onto their laps. They question the child’s preference for sports that are done alone rather than rough games in teams, even wondering if these sensitive young boys are homosexual. In case you are wondering, there are no more gay or lesbian highly sensitive people than there are in the non-highly sensitive population.

The bottom line is that it is harder for sensitive male children. The most common criticism that male HSCs have regarding their father is ‘he doesn’t listen’. I believe that fathers are conflicted as to what they should expect from their sensitive sons – tellingly, they are less conflicted in responding to sensitive daughters needs. Given this gender question, it is not difficult to imagine that unconsciously, even teachers might be expressing their frustrations at trying to understand a sensitive child, particularly an articulate, emotional or over-stimulated boy. I do recommend Dr Ted Zeffs book ‘The strong sensitive boy’ as a guide for parenting male HSCs, it is full of advice and also the recollections of now-adult sensitive men about what worked for them and what didn’t. I also recommend Dr Elaine Aron’s book ‘The highly sensitive child” which is full of explanations, advice, information and strategies.

barbara_allen-wGiven that school can be so demanding for HSCs, just to spend a whole day in that environment, I feel that probably the best advice I could give parents is not to make any more demands once the child is out of school. Let them choose their own activities, give them half an hour on their own after school, to calm their nervous system. Don’t make them attend play-dates or after school activities unless they are asking to do so. If your child continues to be over-stimulated, stressed and exhausted, consider online schooling as an alternative, although most HSCs do continue to enjoy the social part of school life if they are allowed to do this in their own way. Also, remember that HSCs respond best to praise. Correction or criticism needs to be very light. Make sure your child has quiet time before bed and an opportunity to talk about anything that is bothering them before sleep, so they don’t continue to worry during the night. Above all, let them know you appreciate their sensitivity, their thoughtfulness, the way they think carefully about things, the kindness they show to friends, siblings and pets. That you love them just the way they are.

Barbara Allen
Founder and Director
National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)

Is Our Educational System Making Highly Sensitive Pupils Sick?

This week I finally found I had had enough.  Over the years, I have heard, supported and vicariously experienced the difficulties of highly sensitive pupils, from all age groups.  Working alongside parents, I have observed a variety of school situations, referral protocols (educational and psychological), attitudes, beliefs and effects and quite frankly, I am in the main, very disappointed with the lack of training provided to teachers and other professionals responsible for meeting the education and emotional needs of sensitive children.  The lack of support given to parents of highly sensitive children and the sheer lack of critical thinking that is behind the way educators respond here in the UK to struggling HSCs in my opinion is beyond belief. So often I have met with parents who are in fact afraid of the educational system and its representatives and I have met with numerous highly sensitive children who are crying out for mercy from within a system that is exhausting, critical and judgmental.

As tempting as it is to have a jolly good rant, I realise that it would be more constructive to put together a proper plan of action to tackle these sad and unnecessary situations more powerfully and usefully.  So, if you are interested in addressing the lack of understanding and support for highly sensitive children in our education, these are the ways that you can have an input towards making a difference:

  • Firstly, if there are parents out there who are experiencing any concerns, or have in the past, about how their highly sensitive child is doing in the UK educational system – please let me know.  Is it something that is a general malaise, or has your child developed particular difficulties, either in their learning, their physical or emotional health?  Did you notice a change once your child went to school, or moved schools or got to a certain age?  Is the cause of the child’s discomfort a result of being in school, a particular activity, a topic, a cultural tone or unfair expectations, or is the school simply failing to take account of how outside matters are affecting them?
  • If you are a child who wants to tell me your concerns – please also contact me – teens can probably do this without help, but if you are younger, ask your parents to help you with this.
  • If you are a teacher who feels concerned that there is not enough knowledgeable support for you or your sensitive pupils, please contact me.  Also contact me if you feel the current set-up doesn’t work well for highly sensitive teachers.  Tell me about your training or lack of it, in the area of sensitivity.
  • Secondly, remember that if you have managed to sort out something positive from the situation, I will be delighted to hear about this also – what did you do?  who helped you?  what needed to happen?  what difference has it made and how are things as a result?  Have you consulted us here at the NCHS and found a way forward?  If your child has had a wonderful education in a wonderful setting, tell us all about it and why you think it worked.
  • Thirdly, tell me why it matters that sensitivity is taken into account and accommodated in our educational system.  We all know that each HSP is different, and some HSCs are more highly sensitive in different ways, so yes, some HSCs will cope better in some situations than other sensitive children – but even so, what is it that has made the path to resolution and thriving hard for both your child and you as a parent?
  • Is there an attitude or belief that schools, educational systems or others have that you feel is mistaken or blocking progress?
  • Lastly, when things go wrong, and you have a highly sensitive child who is beginning to suffer mental health or physical health problems due to stress, how well do the interventions you are offered do?  How long do you wait?  Do they correctly diagnose a problem, do they misdiagnose sensitivity for a problem.  Do they take your child’s sensitivity into account when they decide what to offer?  What do your children think?  What options do they have for improving their situation or future educational path?  Are there any myths expressed to you as parents or to your child about fitting in and getting on in life that you would like to ‘bust’?

I look forward to hearing from you via leaving a comment to this article at the bottom. If you write to us, I would be very grateful if you would be prepared for us to quote (in a generalised and anonymous way), the situation you are describing and the concerns and needs you feel you or your sensitive child have.  Writing up the real experience of this (large) minority within the school system might help us here at the NCHS to find a way to make a difference and get your views heard.  We may later also design a questionnaire to assist us in understanding and analysing where improvements are needed and where the best examples of our educational system lie in terms of how it meets the needs of HSCs. Please do consider letting us know if you would be prepared to fill out a questionnaire at some point (again, anonymously).

barbara_allen-wWell, thank you for reading this far!  I did not expect to be writing this today, but having done so, I do feel a bit better – even though I see that I have given myself a useful, but jolly big task to complete :).  I look forward to reading your comments about this.

Best wishes to you all and thank you in advance for any help you can give, whether in terms of telling us your story or opinion, or donations to the National Centre for High Sensitivity, (even if its just enough to buy a ream of paper!).

Barbara
Founder and Director
National Centre for High Sensitivity CIC
Article written by Barbara Allen (e-mail: accounts@hspsensitive.com)