A commonly asked question in the HSK community is, “Should I seek professional help, now I suspect my child is highly sensitive?”
The short answer is not automatically and not necessarily. The most important thing to remember about being highly sensitive is this:
Highly sensitive is not a disorder.
Being highly sensitive doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or your child, far from it. Being highly sensitive is an innate tendency to process the world around you deeply and meticulously. Being highly sensitive is about owning a particular set of personality traits. What makes a person highly sensitive is unique from person to person – as is the case with all personality traits. Being highly sensitive is part of who you are and how you deal with the world – not a disorder you have.
The realisation that your child is highly sensitive, whether uttered through the words of a teacher, social worker or psychologist, or self-discovered through reading and putting the puzzle pieces together, does not automatically equate to a problem with, or for, your child.
Being highly sensitive is not a problem to solve.
It’s about a set of traits that should be understood and nurtured.
However, there may come a time when your child’s behaviour, (re)actions or emotional responses cause you concern and you need external or professional advice and support. Remember that some of the traits associated with high sensitivity are a tendency to notice details, think deeply about things, to feel emotions intensely, strive for perfection and be easily overloaded by stimuli. Also consider that there may be additional sensory processing issues which need attention.
It is therefore possible that there are consequences of being highly sensitive that have you seeking help.
I have a personal example with my then four year old. Once my son started school we started seeing explosive emotional outbursts, likened to the type of meltdowns you would expect to see during the terrible twos (something we escaped with my eldest), during lunch breaks and at the end of the school day. It was evident that school was too much, and we were not getting adequate support from the school itself so we turned to professionals. A family counsellor supported us for months on end, giving advice on how to help my son cope with his feelings and how he expressed them when he became so completely overwhelmed by the world around him.
In addition we saw a child psychologist who turned out to be less effective in helping us than the family counsellor as she needed to tick boxes on a checklist – and highly sensitive wasn’t on her list. She did however ensure that actual behavioural disorders were ruled out – which can be helpful when you are dealing with issues in school.
Another good example of seeking help because of a problem stemming from being highly sensitive (as opposed to being highly sensitive being the issue itself) is for those children who are extreme picky eaters because they have problems with texture and taste. Professional guidance is helpful in such a case.
So the short answer is this:
When you discover you child is highly sensitive it does not mean you need to run to make an appointment with your paediatrician or a child counsellor or psychologist. If your child displays extreme behaviour or responses then seeking professional help, in whatever form that is, is sensible.