Happy New Year! The topic of sensitivity (in all it’s expressions) in young children isn’t new to this blog, but the correlation with giftedness hasn’t been a part of my other posts. It is today.
Sensitivity is common in gifted toddlers and preschoolers, and sensitivity is ubiquitous in young children with diagnoses such as ASD and SPD. Could you have both? Sure. Could you have neither, and just have a very sensitive little soul who avoids socks with seams and still can’t spell their name at 5? Sure. Seeing the pattern of sensitivity that gifted children can express isn’t that easy, but it can make dealing with a young child so much easier when you understand the source and know how to support them.
Gifted children make mental and emotional connections that other children their age do not. They see and feel the world differently. They are still young children, without fully developed emotional regulation, and they bear the weight of all that they perceive. It can accumulate throughout the day and over time, and overtake them. You can see more outbursts, more episodes of being overwhelmed, and more crushing waves of emotion. Strong emotions are common with the gifted populations, and they can be more challenging during the toddler years. Remember: not every aspect of brain development is advanced at the same level in gifted children. In many ways, your 3 year-old who reads chapter books is still just 3!
Our brains do not have barriers, so emotional and cognitive floods will create sensory floods as well. This is something that every adult can understand: if you have had a fight with your partner, it is more likely that the bright sunshine will bother you a bit more, the TV will seem too loud, and the people in line at a store are crowding you a bit more than you’d like. You are an adult, so you can take action to reduce your sensitivity (sunglasses, remote control, choosing a shorter line or leaving) but children cannot. They do not even know what is making them uncomfortable. And they often cannot put feelings into words, even if they can tell you all about every dinosaur or how tornadoes affect the planet. Emotional maturity and expression is not always developing at the same amazing pace as cognitive skills in gifted toddlers and preschoolers.
What can you do to help a gifted and sensitive child? The general methods to address sensory sensitivity will be helpful for these children. OT’s use a wide range of physical and behavioral strategies effectively, about which I will write about in more detail later this week. Verbally gifted children may be able to comprehend an explanation of why they explode the way that they do, and they may even be able to help you create a plan to help themselves. Loving your child isn’t enough, but accepting the entirety of who they are can go a long way to making life easier with your sensitive gifted young child.
I will be writing more about this topic in 2017, and hoping to expand my posts to an e- book and a few local lectures. Please comment here, and let me know if there are specific issues with sensitivity and the gifted child that you would like to see posted!