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Back to Simon. So, some weeks ago the kind folks at KIP let me know that Simon’s fear of loud noises and transitions did not look normal to them, and they advised me to seek professional counsel.

Me being me, the first thing I did was talk non-stop to anyone who would listen (sorry everyone at Ben’s birthday party!) and then read a whole bunch. My first stop was a book called The Highly Sensitive Child, which seemed to describe Simon’s temperament pretty well. Highly Sensitive Children (HSC) are the ones who recoil from loud noises, have to have tags cut off of their clothes, only eat bland foods, can’t watch scary movies, hate any change, and are unusually sensitive to pain and were likely to have had colic or reflux as infants. The tags and bland food and pain don’t sound like Simon, but the colic and noise and change and scary movie aversion sure do.

Within fifty pages or so, the book was wearing on me. The author is highly sensitive herself, and much of the book seemed a glorification of this temperament. HSC are so intelligent and intuitive and nuanced and, well, sensitive she keeps saying. Unlike, the silent comparison implies, the rest of us brutes.

Annoyed, I put the book down and went to see our pediatrician, Dr. Newstadt. Newstadt looked Simon over, talked to him, and talked to us. His assessment is that Simon’s behavior as he observed and had reported to him is within normal range, but that he does appear to be moderately stressed and could benefit from further evaluation and maybe some family counseling. He suspects Simon is simply “very sensitive”, but wants to rule out a sensory integration disorder (which I have since ruled out) or mild anxiety. He left us with a list of therapists and a list of books, including books with titles very similar to ones I already own and the same child guidance center my brother went to when he was young and stressed.

At the mere utterance of the word “anxiety”, I nearly suffered a myocardial infarction. I don’t have an anxiety disorder in the clinical sense, but I sure have the tendencies. And I’ve got family members who suffer from the full blown disorder. Several of them. Upon hearing that Simon may be afflicted, I suddenly felt very guilty and ashamed that I may have passed this on to my dear son.

Later that night, I had an enlightening call with my sister-in-law Stacy. Amusingly enough, she’s a psychologist who specializes in anxiety. We chatted about her kids, her nieces and nephews, kids she treats, and the friends of her kids. She’s seen Simon quite a bit, and in her professional opinion “he’s fine.” She’s not against working with a professional; she thinks we might pick up some very useful tips and techniques to make Simon’s life easier for him. But she strongly cautioned me against allowing anyone to “pathologize a healthy personality.”

With that simple sentence, she articulated what I had been feeling in my gut ever since I first talked to Simon’s teachers. I get that Simon can’t spend the rest of his life freezing in terror when a plane or bus goes by. But I also recognize a serious upside to his personality. I’ve got a kid who at not-yet-three noticed silent tears as I read something, looked up at me with concern, and asked, “What’s the matter, Mommy? You look upset.” I’ve got a kid who at 2 ½ quit reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar because the butterfly on the last page looked “worried.” (Check it out, it really does!). And I’ve got a kid who recently grabbed my face in his hands, barked the order “Look at me, Mommy!” and then kissed me right on the lips. Why would I ever want to change that?

After my visit and conversations, I gave The Highly Sensitive Child a second chance. And, in fact, the children described therein often sound like Simon, I’ve picked up some valuable tips, and I’ve been vindicated to see my approach to discipline be advocated.

In the meantime, Simon is doing better at school as he acclimates to the new routines. Yesterday he even came home with a “star student” sticker on his chest. I still plan to ring up a few counselors and see what I can do to help Simon with his fear of loud noises, but you can bet that the minute someone “pathologizes [his] healthy personality” I will be outta there in a heart-beat. My last post may have described my mother hen tendencies, but this topic brings out my inner mama bear.

3 Responses to “The Highly Sensitive Child”

  1. Amanda says:

    Simon will be fine. I bet by the time he’s five or six he’s totally ignoring the buses and planes and whatnot. Also, maybe he has sensitive hearing? If he has particularly acute hearing it may be that loud noises are painful; that would cause a bunch of low-level anxiety when loud noises are heard.

  2. blg says:

    “pathologize a healthy personality”

    In my opinion, many of us in America do this way too much.
    If the effort to diagnose and medicate unruly children over the past ten years had been aimed at healthy eating and getting outdoors to play, I think we would be way better off.

    Hurray for you and for your sister-in-law.

    Here hoping things get a little easier for you and for Simon.

  3. bethnbobinnc says:

    Stick to your guns, Jessica. Drew still wears headphones to concerts, fireworks and any other “loud” activities. He says it just hurts his ears. Simple…

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