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Reflection 2: Multi Sensory Intelligence is not a disability

Multi-Sensory Intelligence is not a disability.

I am starting to see a pattern in my readings and what I am observing in our experiences here.  Our body and it’s many biological, emotional, social, spiritual  and physical sensors form a very complex natural communication system that is not limited to feeding the inner self.  This system is extremely sensitive and the high levels of toxicity of our western world are not only disrupting it but in the case of highly sensitive children also altering it.  For this communication system to work properly we must relearn to be in harmony with nature, ourselves and each other and reconnect to our multi-sensory intelligence.

A lot of research hints at how toxicity affects many of our sensory systems and by consequence our cognitive abilities. My own experiences with toxicity are making me doubt labels assigned to many children as learning disabled.   What are referred to as learning disabilities are different ways of beings with true distinctive modes of sensory perceptions and intelligence.  These forms of understanding must be respected and developed if we are to continue to evolve as a species.  To do so, we need to stop considering individuals deficient because they don’t fit a given system, and turn the lens toward the inadequacy of our systems to consider them instead.

Blogger Lisa Jo Rudy makes this point brilliantly:

“I do wonder whether the world we’ve created is best for us as human beings. How important is it to be able to manage a constant diet of novel experiences, sensory assaults, verbal barrages and hourly transitions? How critical is it that we learn to live all alone, handle every aspect of life independently, and interact constantly with strangers whom we’ll never see again?

Is it possible that we have created a world in which any sensitivity or difference looks like incompetence or over-reaction? Have we developed a culture that specifically excludes a very significant proportion of its members?   “

My personal experiences as well as those of my children make me agree wholeheartedly. The current generation of children counts many who are so sensitive they can sense things that we don’t sense, see and feel. To them, space and beings represent a full spectrum of textures and energy signatures that can be overwhelming.

These abilities are not disabilities

Current research is starting to understand that many “disabilities” are special abilities or different ways of perceiving the world, not defects. Finally, an approach that helps to reduce the labeling of children which is often damaging to their self-esteem, and instead work on developing their gifts. It is clear that many children today have access to a multi-sensory intelligence. The following definitions taken from the article multi-sensory children by T. Rowley presents a few labels within a sensory world perceptive which can be helpful in figuring out how to help these children:

ADHD – These children are often highly creative and relate to life in holographic ways, resulting in less linear, logical, sequential brain access. “A picture speaks a thousand words”, and these children may be better at communicating through art or theater than linear language. Also, competition means less in a holographic, un-sequenced world, so they may be less inclined to want to compete. ADHD children are more inside their bodies than those with autism, but they are not relating to physical reality in a relational way. They are in touch with other worlds that feed their imaginations and offer them ever more out-of-the-box creativity.

Honoring and nurturing their creativity and connecting them to environments that support their creative gifts are very beneficial. Professionals who can measure and support the development of spatial intelligence may also be helpful.

ADD – These children often notice and can take in more sensory data than others. This includes light, sound, vibration, verbal tones, and non-verbal cues, to name several. While they are sensitive to more stimuli, these children and even adolescents, may not have the brain function developed to process this overload of sensory data until their mid-twenties. So they can be overwhelmed more quickly than others. Physical problems, such as anxiety, panic, stomach aches, etc. may result as they try to take on the challenge of digesting their multi-sensory experience. They may have a harder time organizing material, distinguishing big picture from detail, and determining what information is most important. There may be a capacity to be sequential, but it may not be a common version of logical. Their nervous system may be vibrating faster than the rest of their body can comfortably contain.

Their energy and gift often leads them to be more comfortable in expansive and visionary roles than in routine or operational ones. For these children, helping them find and practice their energetic and physical relationship to the ground and the boundaries of their body is very helpful. It is also beneficial to help them with mental boundaries and structures in their thinking.

Autism: not a form of  disorganisation but of reorganisation of the brain.

According to the article “maximizing the brain potential of those with autism”, autism is a different way of thinking. Scientists from the University of Montreal have demonstrated that those on the autism spectrum use their brains differently and that while specific areas are more busy, other brain areas are less so. Dr Laurent Mottron from the University of Montreal explains: “The natural tendency is to think that autism is a form of disorganisation. Here, what we see is that it is a reorganisation of the brain.”  This reorganization is not a disability but in my mind the emergence of an evolutionary trait.

It is refreshing to read passages like the following:

“instead of trying to cure autism, perhaps we should be looking at ways to help those who think differently to develop ways of interacting within their community and to maximise their potential. And the areas of their brains which are not normally so active could be stimulated.“maximizing the brain potential of those with autism”,


Two other groups of people exist that are often confused with either autism or ADHD and who are gifted with enhanced sensory abilities. The first is highly sensitive and the second gifted people.

Highly Sensitive Children
Highly  sensitive people (HSP) represent  about 15-20% of humans and higher animals have a nervous system that is more sensitive to subtleties (HSP). This means that regular sensory information is processed and analyzed to a greater extent, which contributes to creativity, intuition, sensing implications and attention to detail, but which may also cause quick over-stimulation and over-arousal.(Aron, 1996).

Being highly sensitive may amplify or create psychological issues when over-arousal occurs. The ability to unconsciously or semi-consciously process environmental subtleties often contributes to an HSP seeming “gifted” or possessing a “sixth sense”.

Recent research in developmental psychology provides further evidence that individuals differ in their sensitivity. According to the differential susceptibility hypothesis by Belsky and Pluess (2009) individuals vary in the degree they are affected by experiences or qualities of the environment they are exposed to.

According to T. Howley, HSP perceive the world differently as they are sensorial intense. They pick up on the subtle things, learning via their senses and get over aroused easily. HSPs are usually very conscientious, gifted with great intelligence, intuition and imagination, but underperform when being watched. HSPs tend to socialize less with others, preferring to process experiences quietly by themselves. In addition, they can be very intense, mature beyond their years, feel responsible for the world, be insightful, clear, very intuitive or conscious, and sometimes mystic. They can organize their world around their spiritual awareness and are therefore often misunderstood. They can be very good symbolic, abstract thinkers, but may not be able to communicate their experiences. Many can easily leave their bodies and merge or find spiritual union. Some have extraordinary gifts.

These children in particular may pick up others’ thoughts, feelings, emotions, and moods. They may pick up information about another person’s current situation or the future, and try to make sense of it in present time, or they can carry around past family patterns with a sense of responsibility and intensity. These children may be labeled ADD, though they seem (even if not until later childhood or adolescence) to exhibit specific spiritual, intuitive and/or psychic gifts.

What does gifted means?

Just like autism, giftedness and high sensitivities represent a spectrum of characteristics. Two gifted or HSP people are not alike. There is no consensus as to how “gifted” should be defined, one definition that resonates for me is the following which is based on the gifted child’s differences from the norm:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” The Columbus Group, 1991, cited by Martha Morelock, “Giftedness: The View from Within”, in Understanding Our Gifted, January 1992

Giftedness has an emotional as well as intellectual component. Intellectual complexity goes hand in hand with emotional depth. So gifted children not only think differently from other children they also feel differently. The theories of Dabrowski I discussed earlier have greatly informed our understanding of the social and emotional aspects of giftedness. And gifted is not the same as high achievement.

One of the basic characteristics of the gifted is their intensity. Intensity is not a matter of degree but of a different way of experiencing: vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding – a way of being quiveringly alive.

HSP are often gifted and both groups are at high risk for being misdiagnosed as disabled as when over-stimulated their behaviors reassemble those of autism or ADHD. According  to the article Gifted or ADD,  most people, including most medical professionals, do not realize giftedness is often associated with the following behaviors:
• underachieving
• anger and frustration
• high energy, intensity, fidgeting, impulsivity
• individualistic, nonconforming, stubborn
• disorganization, sloppy, poor handwriting
• forgetful, absentminded, daydreams
• emotional, moody
• low interest in details

Adults often do not realize a child is gifted because they don’t really know what “gifted” means.  As a result, many gifted children are being medicated for a brain defect they probably don’t have.

Why do Gifted people get misdiagnosed ?

A first reason is that gifted people become bored easily in settings that average people find tolerable (like school or work).  Boredom leads to restlessness, and restlessness leads to all sorts of problems.  Fast thought processes can lead not only to boredom but to poor handwriting, errors in simple work, disorganization and sloppiness.

A second reason for misdiagnosis stands in that gifted children often go through asynchronous developmental process. Asynchronous development refers to uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development. In average children, intellectual, physical, and emotional development progresses at about the same rate. That is, the development is in “sync.” However, in gifted children, the development of those areas is out of “sync.” They do not progress at the same rate.

A third reason is that if these children are emotionally intense. People often believe that sensitive children are simply being melodramatic. But these children often have an emotional supersensitivity or overexcitability and they experience emotions more intensely than others.

Emotionally intense gifted children exhibit a super sensitivity of the nervous system that makes them acutely perceptive and sensitive, more discriminating of external stimuli and more analytical and critical of themselves and others. This accounts for the tendency for young emotionally intense gifted children to be described frequently as “hyperactive” and “distractable”.

Emotional intensity is expressed by the gifted through a wide range of feelings, attachments. Compassion, heightened sense of responsibility and scrupulous self-examination. While these are normal for the gifted and appear very early in gifted children, they are often mistaken for emotional immaturity rather than as evidence of a rich inner life.

Feeling everything more deeply than others do is both painful and frightening and sensitivity to society’s injustice and hypocrisy can lead many emotionally intense gifted children to feel despair and cynicism at very young ages.

Finally, these children tend to be intense and get over-excited in other areas to the extend of becoming anxious and/or act out in social settings they are not familiar with or when their sensitivities are engaged.

In the book “Helping the Child who Doesn’t Fit In. Decipher the Hidden Dimensions of Social Rejection”, by Dr. S. Nowicki and Dr. M.P. Duke, it is explained that only 7% of emotional meaning is expressed with words, while 38% is expressed through facial, postural and gestural means. Most of us know this but on an unconscious level.

Psychologists have demonstrated that people who have lived a trauma, tend to disociate from their emotions and are unable to articulate how they feel. While this is the case, their non-verbal communication still expresses the feelings that prevail in their mind event if they themselves do not feel. Gifted children and other children who are highly sensitive read this non-verbal communication and react to it. Let that be at home with a stressed parent(s), at school with a stressed teacher or new situations where stress exist…

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