Insensitive to Sensitivities

Child Holding Ears
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Gifted children have a tendency to be highly sensitive. Those who understand that are most familiar with the emotional sensitivity. Children with that sensitivity feel emotions deeply. They are the children who are likely to be told not to make mountains out of molehills, when for them molehills truly are mountains. They are the children who can cry when listening to a moving piece of music or watching a beautiful sunset.

With that depth of feeling, it is no wonder that they feel such emotional pain when a friend says an unkind word, a word that most other children would shrug off or would quickly forget.

But the emotional sensitive isn't the only kind of sensitivity gifted children tend to have. Polish psychologist, Kazimierz Dabrowski noted five different overexcitabilities. Another of these overexcitabilities is the sensual sensitivity, a heightened sensitivity to input from the five senses. I wish I had known about that sensitivity when my son was little. I would have better understood his reactions to things around him. I was already aware that he didn't like the feel of grass on his feet and the feel of certain food textures, but I didn't know his ears were sensitive too!

My son loved Sesame Street, so whenever the Sesame Street Live! show came to town, I took him and he had a wonderful time. When the singing trio "Sharon, Lois, and Bram" came to town, I thought my son would enjoy seeing them too.

He'd seen them on tv and videos and loved them.

I was so wrong. While virtually every other child in the auditorium was smiling, laughing and jumping in their seats, my son was cringing in his chair with his hands over his ears, a look of agony on his face. I thought my son was just being disagreeable and I wasn't happy with him at all.

I told him he had wanted to go to the show so he should enjoy it. But he couldn't.  He kept his hands over his ears and didn't even look up at the stage. We left at the intermission and went home with me being a bit angry and wondering why he had behaved as he did. After all, he loved this group and had been excited about going to see them.

What I realized later was that my son's ears were very sensitive. He just couldn't bear loud noises. Sesame Street Live! had not been as loud so that was okay. At least it was bearable after a while. I began to notice that my son did the same thing when I took him to the movies. When the feature started up, the sounds were sometimes so loud at first that he'd put his hands over his ears. He'd eventually let go and watch the movie, so the sound was not in the completely intolerable range.

Apparently, there was a level at which sound was intolerable and that level was reached at the Sharon, Lois, and Bram concert. Had I understood that, I would not have been angry with my son for something he really couldn't control.

It has gotten better as he got older; that is, he stopped covering his ears. He doesn't cringe when a movie starts and he has gone to concerts and tolerated the sound level. It may be that as he grew older, he became better equipped to deal emotionally with the loud sounds.

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Read more about my experiences as the parent of a gifted child.

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