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 Child focused 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
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
To sum it up, my entire childhood was spent in a state of
confusion because of being deeply misunderstood ~ at home and in
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
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
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
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
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
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
He spoke complete perfect sentences before he was two years old, and had an
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
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
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
Well, they do. They know more about the medical aspect of
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.