The Highly Sensitive Child

Compiled by Hanlie Wentzel on 2 March 2014.

Winged Heart: The Highly Sensitive Child

A highly sensitive person (HSP) is a person having the innate trait of high sensory processing sensitivity (or innate sensitiveness as Carl Jung originally coined it). According to Elaine N. Aron The Highly Sensitive Person and colleagues as well as other researchers, highly sensitive people, who comprise about a fifth of the population (equal numbers in men and women), may process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to a biological difference in their nervous systems.

This is a specific trait, with key consequences for how we view people, that in the past has often been confused with innate shyness, social anxiety problems, inhibitedness, social phobia and innate fearfulness, and introversion (30% of those with the trait are extroverts). The trait is measured using the HSP Scale, which has been demonstrated to have both internal and external validity. Although the term is primarily used to describe humans, something similar to the trait is present in over 100 other species.

The attributes of HSPs can be remembered as DOES:

•Depth of processing.
•Over aroused (easily compared to others).
•Emotional reactivity and high empathy.
•Sensitivity to subtle stimuli.

HSP students work differently from others. They pick up on subtleties and may think about them a long time before demonstrating their grasp of a subject. If an HSP student is not contributing much to a discussion, it does not necessarily mean he or she does not understand or is too shy. HSPs often have insights they are afraid to reveal because they differ from the common view, or because speaking up is too over arousing for them.

For ideas on teaching sensitive students, see The Temperament Perspective or the final pages of The Highly Sensitive Person. HSPs are usually very conscientious, and gifted with great intelligence, intuition and imagination, but under-perform when being evaluated. This also applies to work situations; HSPs can be great employees – good with details, thoughtful and loyal, but they do tend to work best when conditions are quiet and calm.

Because HSPs perform less well when being watched, they may be overlooked for a promotion. HSPs tend to socialize less with others, often preferring to process experiences quietly by themselves. The ability to unconsciously or semi-consciously process environmental subtleties often contributes to an HSP seeming “gifted” or possessing a “sixth sense”.


· Become easily overwhelmed.
· Are cautious in new situations.
· Notice more (changes, subtleties, relationships,
other’s people’s moods & expressions, etc.).
· Think more about what they have noticed.
· Have rich inner lives.
· Feel things intensely.
· Are unusually empathic.
· Are highly intuitive.
· Are conscientious.
· Are exceptionally creative.
· Are exceptionally cooperative and kind— except when
· Are more likely to become fearful, shy, worried, or sad.
· May stand out as “different”.

Contact me for an Assessment to find out more about this Temperament Trait and how to help your child thrive in a world that seems to overwhelm them, at times.

For more details on Assessments available see:

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