High sensitivity (also called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity) has been studied in kids and adults for over 60 years. It’s not a disorder; it’s simply a temperament type – one that’s shared by 20 per cent of the population, occurring equally among males and females.

Psychologist Elaine Aron’s secular book The Highly Sensitive Child has long been a go-to resource for parents. If you suspect your child may be highly sensitive, consult the checklist below of traits described in Aron’s book. No highly sensitive child will show all these traits, just a large number.

Please note though that to be considered highly sensitive, a child must show all of these five traits (which are also in bold in the full checklist below):

  • Intense emotional reactions
  • Deeply processes experiences
  • Highly empathetic
  • Easily overstimulated
  • Sensitive to subtle stimuli

To learn more about this topic and find practical advice on how to raise your highly sensitive child well, check out the article entitled, “Understanding highly sensitive children.” 

Emotionally sensitive

  • Has intense emotional reactions – more intense joy, fear, anger and sadness
  • Cries easily; feelings are easily hurt
  • Deeply processes experiences – mulls things over
  • Described by teachers as “quiet,” “withdrawn,” “timid” or “shy” (70% of HS people are introverts) 
  • Highly empathetic and caring – shows great concern for others
  • Is easily overstimulated – needs a lot of rest or “down time”
  • Often bothered by nightmares or recalls vivid dreams
  • Is conscientious and eager to please; is concerned about doing things right
  • Seems mature and insightful for their age; asks thoughtful questions

Sensitive to subtle stimuli

  • Sensitive to rough or “itchy” fabrics or tags on clothing
  • Complains of being too hot, too sticky, too sandy etc. when siblings and others don’t seem bothered by the same
  • Avoids or complains about busy or noisy environments; notices noises and odours others barely perceive
  • More sensitive to pain than other children
  • Picky about food choices; may prefer bland food or avoid food of certain consistencies
  • Notices details in the environment including subtle changes in a room or in others’ clothing
  • Picks up subtle social cues: unusually aware of others’ moods, body language, expressions; has uncanny intuition

Cautious about novel situations

  • Hesitant and standoffish in new situations and new environments
  • Often overwhelmed in complex social settings
  • Needs to be introduced to change gradually
  • Slow to transition to a new activity
  • Dislikes surprises and being startled
  • Shy and hesitant with strangers; slow to warm up to people
  • Happy to play alone or spend a long time alone in their room

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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