We knew the first day that we brought our son home from the hospital that he was different. We couldn’t help but notice that it took very little to set him off. Too much noise, too much movement, too much of anything would cause him to ball his fists and scream until he was red-faced and out of breath.
I desperately wanted to calm him, but the more I held him, the more he fought and cried. Those first few months, Lincoln spent a good amount of time in his bouncer with a blanket draped over the top. We found out that if we helped him shut out the world, he was better able to cope.
In the early days, we kept the television off and the house quiet. We didn’t go on many outings. When Lincoln would scream and cry, we looked around for the source of overstimulation and removed it if we could. My husband and I talked about overstimulation a lot.
As Lincoln grew, we started to notice quirks. When he was less than a year old, he began collecting things that were the color orange and grouping them together. He had unnatural levels of intense focus. He didn’t speak.
When Lincoln was 18 months old, he began to throw incredible tantrums. Screaming and thrashing, and sometimes biting his wrists until he drew blood. As a mother, I was terrified. Nothing I could do would soothe him.
Kentucky’s Early Intervention program matched him with both a Speech Therapist and a Developmental Interventionist to help him (and his parents) learn to cope.
As I was struggling through the hardest of times with my son, I came across the notion of the “highly sensitive” or “orchid child.” I first got a glimpse of highly sensitive children from Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. (One of my favorites on the Reading List.)
The more I learned about orchid children, the more I became certain that my son was one of them.
Lincoln had all of the hallmarks of being a highly sensitive child. He was often distant and withdrawn. He poured himself deeply into preferred activities. He engaged heavily in behaviors that psychologists refer to as “externalizing.” Screaming, whining, tantrums, and refusal of seemingly reasonable requests are all methods of externalizing. While I understand that these behaviors are hallmarks of toddlerhood, I could feel that what my son was doing was beyond the ordinary.
But what did it all mean? What could I do to help?
According to an article by David Dobbs published in The Atlantic in 2009, “With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.”
Over time, our family’s Developmental Interventionist has helped us to recognize small cues that we were missing previously. She armed us with tools and techniques to help prevent Lincoln’s meltdowns and nurture his insatiable curiosity. We learned that he thrived on routine and consistency.
Although things weren’t perfect, we were beginning to get a handle on his behavior at home. He quit biting his wrists and his epic tantrums became a weekly occurrence rather than happening multiple times a day. We were starting to feel as if things were under control.
That’s when we were informed that Lincoln was showing aggression at school. He was pushing other children for no apparent reason. He was getting into fights. He bit a teacher.
Fortunately, I had access to experts that could help both me and my son. I called our Developmental Interventionist and she began working with the school. She found that he was lashing out during “free play.” He just couldn’t handle all of the commotion and the overwhelming choices that came with that time of the day. On the recommendation of the therapist, the teachers began to offer structure for Lincoln during this time and his outbursts began to diminish.
Gradually, we are learning what we need to do to help Lincoln to thrive.
After reading Elaine Aron’s books, The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child, I’ve realized that my son’s sensitivity is a gift, if nurtured properly. I think that we will constantly be adapting to the needs of our orchid child. But I also believe that it will be worth it.
Hello there! I’m Krysta. If you’re new to The Thoughtful Mom, welcome! And thank you for stopping by.
If you like what you read, you can link to me on Faceboook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. You can also sign up to receive email updates when new posts are written by entering your email below. Thanks again, and I look forward to learning from you.