by Anne Ohman
My name is Anne, and I am a Highly Sensitive / Out of Sync Person!
I first want to talk about the descriptions I’m using – Highly Sensitive and Out of Sync. We don’t use these labels in our home, in our lives … we are just Who We Are. But I, personally, have found it incredibly validating understanding why I am the way I am … and also validating to know that there are other people like me.
When I first needed an understanding of my child and myself, I felt a connection with The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz because it was the first book I came across that asked society for a better understanding of people with Sensory Defensiveness, or Sensory Integration Dysfunction without focusing on trying to change the child. And I found the practical advice helpful, also.
But recently, this book has come into my life: The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, and I have been blown away by it. Where The Out of Sync Childfocused on the dysfunction of Sensory Integration, The Highly Sensitive Child boldly insists that there is nothing wrong with possessing these traits, and, in fact, being that 20% of the population possess these traits, being highly sensitive is not dysfunctional or abnormal. It’s just the way some people are and for very good reasons.
So, basically, I’ve found both books to be helpful, but I highly recommend The Highly Sensitive Child because, like me, the author advocates not only an understanding for people with these traits, but honoring and celebrating these traits. It’s the first book I’ve ever found that has said what I’ve been doing and saying all along …
There are parts, however, that talk about how to get the child to succeed in school, and you can just ignore those parts, or do like I did and write “YUK!” in big letters across the page!
Anyway, I’ll be referring to both descriptive terms and I do recommend both books.
So, what I’m talking about when I say “Out of Sync” or “Highly Sensitive … some common traits:
- Sensitive to a lot of things, if not almost everything: scratchy clothes, textures, noises, lights, changes in routines …
- Feelings are easily hurt, extremely sensitive to criticism
- Easily overwhelmed and confused
- Activity level either unusually high or low
- Challenges with motor coordination
- Feels things deeply
- Perhaps you think they are overly dramatic, or they over-react
- They may just, in general, seem like difficult children
As I said, I am an out of sync and highly sensitive person. I don’t want to go into my own, sad, lengthy childhood story (!), because I’m here to talk about our children, but I do want you to know where I am coming from.
You may understand when I say that I discovered my own Truth from learning about my child, so I’ll just give you the Readers’ Digest condensed version.
To sum it up, my entire childhood was spent in a state of confusion because of being deeply misunderstood ~ at home and in school.
School was a nightmare for me ~ and not just for the obvious reasons ~ but I didn’t know why, like I do now. All of the sensory issues that are a part of school are debilitating for highly sensitive and out of sync children. The lights, the sounds, the touching, the soul-stifling structure, the polyester gym suits, not to mention the extreme sensitivity that I possessed to the energy from every single person around – the sad, the kind, the mean, the fearful – highly sensitive/out of sync children not only pick up on each one and feel it deeply, but they tend to OWN other people’s energy, too. And from all of this input, we are immobilized.
In essence, I was constantly receiving the message that there was something wrong with me. I was told that the way I felt was wrong and that I needed to change in order to live in the world with everyone else.
Eventually, other people’s efforts at making me become something other than Who I Was ended up being successful and I graduated from high school in 1980 with no sense of my True Self whatsoever. And it took a very long time and a lot of painful healing in order to truly find myself again.
So it is now my life’s quest to save all the hs/oos children in the world from that misunderstood, confusing existence.
I can’t stress enough how just understanding why your child is like he is can save his life. Giving your child the gift of understanding, sensitivity, and responsive parenting will save your child’s life.
MY JOURNEY WITH MY OWN CHILD:
When I became a mother, I hadn’t yet solved the riddle of my own misunderstood, confused life.
But I did know that I would do things differently for my own child. I would give my child the life that I never had. I would honor his voice, and I would reassure him that he was whole and perfect just the way he was.
Well, little did I know that this task would be more challenging than even I had imagined.
When my son was born, he cried a lot, breastfed a lot, hardly ever slept, and would not let us put him down at all.
But we saw beyond the challenges right from the start.
From the very first days of our child’s existence in this world, we could tell there was something about him that we had never seen before in other babies. He seemed to have an awareness about the world that exceeded our own. And along with that “knowing” that he possessed came an anxiety that was the price to be paid for his intense awareness.
We always said that he was born with the weight of the world on his shoulders. We recognized this and we did what we could to help him be content and at peace.
And as he grew, we continued to realize he was unlike any other child we had ever known.
- He had an extremely low tolerance for any level of pain or discomfort.
- He had a very high level of frustration for things he could not do perfectly the first time.
- He didn’t enjoy the things that everyone always assumed children enjoyed, like birthday parties and playgrounds full of loud, active children.
- He stood back and observed instead of playing with other children.
- He was very literal. He didn’t like anyone joking around with him.
- He was shockingly and truthfully blunt, with familiar people and with strangers.
- He spoke complete perfect sentences before he was two years old, and had an amazing vocabulary.
- He was incredibly generous. When other children came to play at our house, he would give away his most valued toys.
- He had a huge capacity for remembering things. He would recall things that happened or places to which he had been as an infant.
- He was very empathetic of the underdogs in life, and those who couldn’t speak for themselves, like animals and insects and all other living creatures.
- He would ache if we cut a branch off of a tree, because he felt the tree was suffering, and he always owned everyone else’s suffering.
- At one point in his life, I think he was six or seven, he spent every day crying for homeless people, and other less fortunate people, and not only would he give all of his allowance to charity, but our family began delivering meals to homebound senior citizens because of his charitable heart.
- He had an unending quest for Truth and Justice. Everything had to be fair, everything had to be according to the rules. He was the self-appointed fairness and rules police for every other person on the planet.
- He was so very intense and emotional. Everything was so extreme, and he would react as if someone was being murdered at something as simple as mustard getting on his hand.
Yes, parenting this child was, at times, challenging, exhausting, and frustrating.
But the benefits were huge. The Light that shone from this child because he was free to express himself was so bright, you couldn’t help but be blessed by it. The gifts that he was already giving to the world at such a very young age were immeasurable.
By far, the greatest gift that he gave to us – his family, and those that knew him well – was his awareness and his enlightened observations about the world and its inhabitants. It was such a joy to learn to see the world from his eyes, because it was a view that my husband and I had not seen before, and it was glorious. We had an excitement about the world and each day that we didn’t have before, because we were learning from our son about how to really live.
And so, wherever our child led, we followed, because we were learning so much together. Because we weren’t focusing on the challenges, to us they were just a part of parenting this child. It was in our trusting our child and the exciting path that he was leading us on that allowed this child to Shine. And shine he does …
The more we followed the path that our child required in his life, the more at peace we ALL were in our own lives.
And it is from this point of reference where he became our greatest teacher in life.
We were learning from him to question and examine everything that we had thought you were “supposed” to do, think, feel and say. His refusal to change the essence of Who He Is in order to accommodate the rest of society gave us the courage to do so, too. From watching him live according to his own heart, and from honoring that, we learned to live from our own hearts, too.
There were many things that were standard in society that we were forced to question because of his needs and desires, but the biggest one we needed to examine was school.
My child simply was never interested in going to school. Because he demanded the Truth about everything, I would not lie to this child and tell him that school was a wonderful thing, and he’ll be so excited to ride the school bus, and to “learn”. I saw this child was learning more than anyone could possibly teach him every day already. He was already getting all he needed in life.
So we knew early on that we would just homeschool. But we had to examine even THAT because my child never ever wanted to be “taught” anything. He wanted his questions answered, and he had many, many questions, but don’t try to “teach” him anything beyond his current question.
So we answered his questions. We didn’t try to teach him. We continued to give him what he told us he needed and desired in life and he continued to grow and learn every day. We continued to give him as much of the world as we could, and allowed him to choose from it what he loved and what he wanted to explore further.
We didn’t realize at the time that he was introducing us to the glorious world of unschooling, telling us that was what he needed in life in order to Shine. But that’s what it was.
And so we were all blessed by this unschooling path because our whole family was learning about the world, each other and our selves.
When my son was about 8 or 9, some challenges kept surfacing that we could not ignore. We understood that they were front and center because they warranted our attention. His anxiety that accompanied his depth of understanding things of the world increased. He was not able to easily choose to be happy and at peace much of the time. He was in pain and I knew that I needed more tools in order to help my child.
I remember going for a sort of meditative run one morning during this time and focusing all of my thoughts and energy on the universe providing me with some answers for my child. That very afternoon, an answer came in the form of a column in Home Education Magazine by Jeff Kelety. He wrote about his own son’s challenges, and one word jumped out and bit me: “Quirks.” It described one of my son’s traits that we had found endearing, but which grew in intensity with age instead of lessening, as we had thought would happen.
I devoured the article in that magazine and began scouring websites for more information. I researched all the labels I came across: Asperger’s, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Non-verbal Learning Disabilities, dyslexia, profound giftedness … and I found a bit of my child in everything I researched, but never completely. I was first shocked, then relieved and then really confused and saddened … everything that used to be just a part of Who He Is now had a label and was a trait associated with some disorder.
But my child was not broken. He did not need to be changed or fixed. And yet I was forced to admit that I needed help. So I went to the books written by the “experts” because I felt they must know more than I did.
Well, they do. They know more about the medical aspect of these disorders.
But they did not know my son. They did not know my child’s free, unschooled life and the way he was Shining because we didn’t see him as a medical disorder that needed to be fixed and because we didn’t force him to change in order to be like everyone else. We celebrated our child’s uniqueness and honored him for NOT being “normal.”
The experts didn’t know about this. What I found in the books that they did know about was how to take these unique children, who have so much to offer the world when they’re free to find their True Selves and their innate gifts, and let them know that their light needs to be “fixed” because it flickers differently than the “typical” child’s. The books talked about how to bend and shape and change and mold and train and do whatever you can to get that unique child’s light to fit their world and their definitions and their society.
And what I know to be true from my own life is that you can’t do any of that without first putting the child’s light out entirely.
I did find the answers I was looking for. They weren’t in most of the expert’s books. Some answers did come from reading The Out of Sync Child (and I was outraged by the parts where it talked about how to get your child to “succeed” in school – the author even entitles a portion of the book “If Only School Were More Like Home”). Some answers came from discussing the issues and challenges with other unschooling parents, mostly at unschooling.com.
But, for the most part, the answers were right where they had been all along – in my heart and in my child’s heart.
I took the new understanding I possessed of why he had challenges and used it to help him find Peace – because it’s from that place of Peace where this child’s light shines the brightest.
He’ll be 13 years old in September. Always unschooled – except for a brief lapse in Mom’s school-trained brain, but he forgives me for that.
He longs for Peace, as we all do. Sometimes it’s more difficult to come by with him, when the violence and injustices and dis-ease of the outside world creeps into his heart. But because of living a free, uncluttered, unschooled life, we are all able to focus on his blessings and his ability to Shine, instead of the challenges.
I want to go over some important things that I need to remain mindful of when living with my child – because I want our life together to be joyful. If you can relate to these things w/your child, we can further discuss them later.
The first thing I need to remember is the fact that my child has an excruciating sensitivity to me, the person he Trusts the most in the world.
And with this, I need to remember that it works both ways. If I am critical of him, he carries that agonizing, heavy burden with him for a long time. I don’t want to give my child any more burdens than he already owns. This is a challenge because, while I’m not a mother who shames or punishes or withdraws love, I have to be aware and mindful of the fact that even a mean glare or voice inflection is highly distressing to my child. He punishes himself enough.
The other side of him being excruciatingly sensitive to me is the Truth that when I am attentive, responsive, caring, approving and understanding, he takes this to the core of his heart, too … but in a positive way. It empowers him, validates his life, and helps him to feel secure with Who He Is.
This excruciating sensitivity to me is exactly how he lead us to unschooling – the one time I attempted to “Teach” him something resulted in my immobilizing his brain and his spirit. He could not handle the energy I was giving to him, that I had expectations of him, and that I would judge him.
Unschooling allows me to invest my life’s energy on focusing on attentive, responsive, caring, approving and understanding parenting.
I need to remain mindful of allowing my child to Shine. What my child loves to do – he does. I find out what he loves. I go into his world and ask questions and learn from him so that this child can Shine in my eyes – especially important because of his excruciating sensitivity to me.
I honor and celebrate those things about him that make him unique. I encourage and nurture his passions. I talk about the traits that make him different in a positive light. I talk about how the world needs people like him, and I let him know that he blesses the world so much because of his existence.
When he Shines in my eyes, then he develops the Strength and Courage to take his gifts out into the World.
Let your child Shine.
I need to respect and honor my child’s need for a sanctuary, a safe zone. He requires a haven where things in his world are predictable and safe. A place where he can quickly and effortlessly access Peace when the rest of the world overwhelms him.
This can mean several things and it can be different things, depending on where we are and what we have access to.
The most basic, yet essential sanctuary for him is connecting emotionally with me. So his sanctuary can be within my loving and understanding arms – a hug, a back rub, holding hands, a loving glance, and an understanding smile. This connection connects our hearts and that is where my son feels safe and at home.
Another safe zone can be in his mind, by my focusing on creating conversations about the things he loves. His mind is re-directed from that place of anxiety and stress to things of Joy, and that brings him back to a place of Peace.
I do all I can to focus on that place where he can find Peace.
A safe zone can also be a physical place – an actual, physical sanctuary. Jake has claimed a corner of our living room as his, and he surrounds himself with the things that he loves and requires in life ~ his literature, research and reference books about birds and animals and mythology, his Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield books, his sketch pad and colored pencils, his Gameboy and games, a favorite Beanie Baby, his calming stone that he rubs, and his magazines. This is truly his sanctuary – the place to which he can retreat and surround himself with things to which he has a deep connection, things the define the core of Who He Is and validates his worthy existence in the world.
He also always remembers to bring a long a piece of his sanctuary whenever we go somewhere to help his mind stay directed on things that he loves. His GameBoy and his books and magazines are all safe zones for unpredictable outings and events. These things are portable, and provide an enormous amount of Peace when things get disturbing for him – or, more important, they’re used BEFORE things get anxious for my child.
I sometimes need to help my son feed his mind. Being a lifetime unschooler, Jake is really good at feeding his own mind. He always has things going on … at least two books being read at once, games, research, organizing something … but sometimes he lets something overwhelm his life. He then gets stuck and needs a boost because his mind can sometimes be his worst enemy. His mind can re-play mistakes he’s made, or embarrassing moments in his life, over and over … and they get worse and worse as they are magnified each time they are replayed. he’ll take something someone said to him four days ago and decide to be offended by it. He’ll feel guilt and regret all over again for a bad decision he made a year and a half ago. Or he’ll be paralyzed with fear about the future and my dying.
At these times, I help him by feeding his mind. This doesn’t mean I make him do certain things. It means I invest my life’s energy into strewing his life with things that he loves or things that I think he may love.
I expand his world. I fuel his fire for his passions. I don’t let his mind dwell on the negative. I bring it back into a place where he can once again Shine.
I just want to touch briefly upon transitions because I know many people will be able to relate to it, and if we don’t understand it, it can be very harmful to our children.
I need to understand that my child has a difficult time with transitions. His difficulty with transitions is why it seems at times that he’s stuck doing one thing. The reason this is harmful if not seen for what it is and understood is because the “experts” believe that our children will do NOTHING unless told what to do all the time. They say our children require schedules and structure. I have an almost 13 year old who proves them wrong.
What my child is doing right now in this moment is safe and predictable. In his mind, it takes a lot of critical thinking and analyzing to get form one place to another, one stage in life to the next. And the fear of the unknown and what COULD happen sometimes paralyzes him.
I do what I can to make transitions easier for him. I try to remember to not give sudden orders so that I don’t get excuses and arguments. I remember that I am his safe zone, so I can go into his present safe zone – say, his reading his book, or watching TV, or playing a game, and I can talk about what he’s doing. I can connect with him physically, emotionally and mentally, and then keep those connections going while we move onto the next thing. I take those connections with us as we move from one thing to the other.
This also removes the weight of the responsibility of transitioning from my child and puts it onto me. That’s a huge weight lifted from him.
There are times when the world is just too overwhelming, no matter how much effort I put into responsive, sensitive parenting. It’s those times when I just hug my son and I say, “I know … it’s a difficult job to be Jacob, isn’t it?” And he’ll just melt into my arms and cry. And I’ll add, “You’re doing a really good job of it, though, Jake. You’re doing well … “
I acknowledge his pain. I help him to release it, and then I help him to move forward.
Look at all that I’m eliminating from my child’s life with unschooling. All of the painful, debilitating sensory issues that are a part of school. The immobilizing and aggravating emotional pain and disturbance that comes along with schooling at home.
My son can become anxious for the largest of reasons, when he thinks about war or hunger or violence, or for the smallest of reasons, like the Neopets website being unavailable when he wants to use it, or someone kicking his chair at the theater.
Why would I want to add more weight to what this child already owns?
Even when you eliminate the countless issues that would cause anxiety and confusion in these children’s lives … even when they are allowed to be free and to focus on what they love … you’re STILL going to be dealing with challenges.
But what you’re working with when you’re unschooling these children is the true challenge of the child. They are their real anxieties that exist in their hearts for a real reason. They’re not anxieties caused by someone else imposing limitations on their lives.
With unschooling, you’re not cleaning up the by-product of the stress and anxiety that are the results of these false limitations. You don’t have to peel back the layers of other damage done to his true Self and then also understand how to help him with his true challenges.
The challenges that are present when the child is Free to be Who He Is and follow the callings of his own unique and valid heart are clear and definable and therefore resolvable. With unschooling, you have a direct view to understanding his world, his mind, and his heart.
Highly sensitive/Out of Sync children do not choose to be different or difficult on purpose. They don’t seek out ways to be annoying or exhausting. In fact, they have a stronger desire to be accepted and approved of than typical children.
But their own inner wiring is such that they physically and mentally and emotionally can NOT do certain things, and they HAVE to have things certain ways. For their own protection and survival, they are people who carry the heavy burden of analyzing everything, thinking a lot more than “typical” people think, and being critical of everything and everyone, including themselves.
Our children are not broken. They don’t need to be fixed. They don’t over-react and they’re not overly sensitive. They are the way they are for a reason.
An enlightened reason.
Their intuition gives them a direct connection to the Truth – even when other people are denying it. They are the ones who seem to know the importance of pursuing their passions. They are the ones who can teach us to live from our hearts and not care about society’s rules and expectations, therefore living mindfully and fully in each moment. They are the ones who are so in tune with the world and its goodness and its weaknesses.
Children are born with so many varying traits, but our society only encourages certain ones. Usually, the ones that make children compliant and obedient and good school students.
The traits of our highly sensitive/out of sync children need to be celebrated. The gifts they possess can only be utilized and sent into the world when they feel confident about themselves, when they feel that they have gifts to share.
Understanding this about our children will allow their spirits to be free in order that they may Shine and bless the world with their gifts.
Honoring their voice and their passions allows them to know, without a doubt, that their sensitive and unique contribution to the universe is valid and crucial.
With unschooling, you’re freeing their creative, intuitive spirits and allowing them to Shine.
Allow your child to Shine.