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How to tell if your child is 'highly sensitive' and what to do about it

According to research, one in five kids are affected by this trait, says child psychologist Tammy Auten-Dye.
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One in five kids are affected by this trait, says child psychologist Tammy Auten-Dye.

Auten-Dye, who is quoted in the book The Highly Sensitive Child, says it isn't necessarily tied to other diagnoses like autism and anxiety.

"It's just part of who they are." she says, "It's not really a problematic thing, but more about awareness."

Highly sensitive children could be sensitive to different stimuli, some are affected by loud noises, bright lights, or even certain types of clothing.

"For somebody that finds things too loud, as an adult they don't go to loud places, or they wear headphones when they do," Auten-Dye tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

But children don't always have the choice, and their parents often make choices for them.

"We drag them around to these loud events and they get overwhelmed and perhaps they have temper tantrums and they look like they're poorly behaved," Auten-Dye says. "When what's happening is that their brain is actually overwhelmed by the noise that's around them."

She says this often leads to parents getting frustrated when they don't understand the reaction.

"Children will often get in trouble from their parents, or get into power struggles with them," Auten-Dye says.

Auten-Dye is hoping to raise awareness of highly sensitive children among parents and teachers, to be more understanding of their needs.

"As parents we think we know best and we're trying to help them learn, when really what's happening is they just need a little extra support," she says.

More than modifying their child's behaviour, Auten-Dye thinks parents should accept their differences.

"As parents we can support them rather than punish them when they don't listen to us," she says.

According to Auten-Dye, highly sensitive kids are often more likely to get in trouble at school, or be seen as defiant and acting out.

"Children look like they're getting in trouble often, having to sit in the hallway, missing recess, when really there's a problem that could be solved to support them better," she says.

But with more education among parents and teachers, Auten-Dye says more resources are being implemented.

"Different seating options, different lighting options, noise cancelling headphones," she says.

And although technology sometimes has a negative impact on children's development, young people are also finding ways that technology can benefit them when they need it.

"They're using tech in positive ways to manage those highly sensitive feelings," Auten-Dye says. "Every group of millenials you see had earbuds in their ears."




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Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

After graduating from journalism at King's, Victoria Walton now works in the film industry and as HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor.
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