How Do I Know If My Child Is Highly Sensitive, Has SPD, Is Gifted or Has OEs?

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I started this blog to connect with other parents raising quirky kids, so I’m always pleased to hear from you. A kindred spirit recently asked this great question:

 ‘How do I know if my child 1) is highly sensitive, or 2) has a sensory processing disorder, or 3) is gifted, or 4) has some of the OEs? How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed? I have had to work through a lot of issues with my child(ren). Sometimes want to completely throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult even while we have some extra-special times too. The problem is I know public school would not do better for them than what I can currently provide. I am also a sensitive mama and get really overwhelmed or akin to triggered by some of the meltdowns that can happen. How do I determine which of these different ways of thinking applies to my child? I can glean ways of interacting with and support them, but I do know there is occupational therapy and other supports available for 2e kids or those with SPD. What would you recommend? Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and whatever advice you can give.’

Let me start out by saying I’m not a professional in child development, just a mum of two differently-wired children. I hope that by sharing my experience I can help you navigate the sometimes confusing abundance of information out there.

(1) Highly sensitive

I read Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Persons when my children were about 6 and 7. While much of it resonated, we had a lot going on that high sensitivity didn’t explain.  HSP didn’t address the intense energy, incessant questions, intense drive and the (sometimes aggressive) competitiveness we were dealing with, for instance.

(2) Sensory processing disorder

When my son was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder at age 8 I felt so relieved to finally have an explanation for what was going on. At last I had a way to explain his unusual behaviour to friends, family and teachers (or so I thought)!

However, after a year of occupational therapy there was no change in my son’s behaviour. During a football course run by the OTs I noticed how different Jasper was from all the other kids who had sensory issues.  I realised that there must be something else going on besides SPD.

(3) Overexcitabilities (OEs)

A couple of years later the words, ‘Intense? Sensitive? Easily overwhelmed? Reacts out of proportion?’ jumped out at me from a flyer. They led me  to a PowerWood workshop, where I learned about the innate personality traits known as  overexcitabilities.

As I listened to the characteristics and challenges of emotional, imaginational, sensual, intellectual and psychomotor OE, I wept with relief. Finally someone understood. THIS was what was going on with my son! And not just him, but also my daughter and myself, too.

(4) Giftedness

At the OEs workshop I discovered that there’s a lot of overlap between OEs and giftedness.  Not everyone with OEs has a high IQ, and not everyone with a high IQ has OEs. But the high degree of co-morbidity means the gifted community provides invaluable resources to support families dealing with OEs.

How do we as parents determine when intervention is needed?’

I’m guessing from your question that you’ve read about high sensitivity and that it didn’t  provide all the answers.

Take the OEs questionnaire

My next step would be to take the overexcitabilities questionnaire and read the excellent description of OEs in the PowerWood OEs flyer. If you discover that your child has OEs, remember they’re not a disorder. They’re personality traits that can bring many benefits as well as challenges. Individuals with OEs often experience above-average creativity, energy and enjoyment of life, for instance.

Parenting coaching

Consider having an introductory chat with a parenting coach who specialises in OEs to find out more about how they apply to your family. Skype coaching with OEs expert Simone de Hoogh helped us enormously.

Identify your specific concerns

Shift your focus away from puzzling over what theory applies and ask yourself,  ‘What challenges does my child needs help with?’ Are you worried about her inability to focus on learning? Her social behaviour? Anxiety? Identifying your specific concerns will help guide you towards solutions and the people who can provide them.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy can be a great support to some families. Read about sensory processing issues. If you think OT might help, consider consulting a therapist. My son enjoyed his OT sessions but they were expensive and when we’d seen no behavioural changes after a year we stopped them (by which time Jasper was getting bored anyway).

Educational psychologist assessment

Read the Columbus Group definition of giftedness. How (if at all) might having your child assessed by an educational psychologist help? The answer will depend on your location and circumstances.

We homeschool in the UK, and an assessment with an ed psych helped us identify asynchronies and twice-exceptionality.

The psychologist identified issues like (relatively) slow processing speed and working memory, mild dyslexia, and dysgraphia.

The information and resources the psychologist recommended has helped me meet my children’s needs better. It also got us into the system for accommodations (such as the ability to use a keyboard in exams) later down the line.

‘Sometimes I want to throw in the towel because it’s exhausting and difficult. I am also a sensitive mama and get triggered by some of the meltdowns’

I hear you! Raising these amazing kids can be super-tiring. Intensity and sensitivity are hereditary traits, so it’s not surprising we get triggered by our children.  Let me give you a virtual hug and reassure you that you’re probably doing much better than you’re giving yourself credit for.
I’m glad you recognise that, ‘public school would not do better for them than what I can currently provide.’  You’re an intelligent, loving mum who understands her children better than anyone else does. Appreciate yourself for the great job you’re doing. Forgive yourself when you don’t always live up to your high standards.  Prioritise meeting your own needs. When you do, you’ll have more energy to be the kind of parent you want to be. Have realistic expectations of everyone (including yourself). Appreciate small victories, and take one day at a time.
Tilt Creed - How do i know if my child is highly sensitive, has SPD, is gifted or has OEs
The TiLt Parenting Creed – click to visit the TiLt website

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What are your favourite resources for raising differently wired kids?

What professional support has been most helpful to you?

Do you have a question of your own?

I’d love to hear from you. 🙂


High Sensitivity

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to thrive when the world overwhelms you by Elaine Aron (book)

Happy Sensitive Kids (blog)

Sensory Issues

Understanding Sensory Issues  10 informative articles about sensory issues in children

Sensory STUFF My Little Poppies (blog)

Sensual OE


OE questionnaire (a great starting point – highly recommended)

OE info (PowerWood flyer all about OEs – highly recommended)

Living With Intensity (book) by Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski

Giftedness and twice-exceptionality

GHF (Gifted Homeschoolers Forum)

SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted)

Your Rainforest Mind by Paula Prober (book)

General support

TiLt Parenting Inspiring website for parents of differently-wired kids, including weekly podcast and blog (recommended) Resources about all kinds of learning and attention issues with useful tips for getting professional support (US website)

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults (book) by James T Webb et al


Why our intense children trigger our suppressed pain

5 Keys to staying sane as a mum to sensitive, spirited kids

Why raising our personal baseline is they key to parenting our intense and sensitive children

A surprisingly powerful tool to raise your energy and resilience (downloadable MP3 meditation recording)

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Header image by Alexa Fotos

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6 thoughts on “How Do I Know If My Child Is Highly Sensitive, Has SPD, Is Gifted or Has OEs?

  1. In the past two years I’ve read ever so many books on giftedness, intensity etc. They’ve better helped me understand that my child isn’t NT and is really forging her own path. I can’t rely on ‘normal’ parenting and educational strategies. This is challenging when you’ve got two older children and feel like you’ve got this parenting thing under control and then child #3 comes along and rocks your parenting boat.

    I’ve considered seeking professional help several times, when I’m at the point of really feeling out of my depth. My hesitation is that the professionals may never have seen anyone like my daughter before. They may be no help while costing a fortune we don’t have. I’ve also heard many stories of professionals really getting it wrong and causing problems for outlier-type children. And it’s scary how many of the books I’ve read mention that giftedness is not taught in either education or psychology degrees to any significant extent.

    My best resources are other parents in the same or similar boat to mine. We share concerns, strategies, educational resources etc. These are the people who I feel get me and may even get my daughter. This is you, Lucinda, and also the lovely people I regularly chat with on the WTM Accelerated Learner board.

    My other best resource is my daughter herself. When I really listen to her (her words, her actions, her emotions) I meet her specific needs better. Sounds obvious, but it’s hard to toss out all that parenting and education ‘knowledge’ I’ve accumulated over the past two decades of being a parent and teacher.

    1. M, I didn’t realise your older children were less atypical than your youngest. I can imagine how challenging that’s been.

      I love what you say about other parents (like you) and our children themselves being our best resources. Definitely! Between those two, we don’t need much more I guess. (Thank goodness for the internet.) My children teach me so much.

      Our experience with professionals is congruent with what you say about the lack of education about gifted issues and OE. The ed psych we saw talked vaguely about standard deviations between different developmental areas but didn’t even hint that emotional issues might be connected with the asynchrony. I worked out the 2e aspect myself later. And we saw another psychologist who didn’t have a clue where to start. I’m so glad I finally figured out that there wasn’t anything wrong and stopped trying to fix.

      On a different note, I loved Head Games – thank you. Funny, clever and thought-provoking. I’m definitely going to read more.

      1. So glad you enjoyed Head Games. If you like the characters Frank and Philby, I’d suggest you head for ‘World of Chickens’ next. It’s a novel, not short stories.

        Another great local author here is Rebecca Sparrow. Her novel ‘A Girl Most Likely’ would be one of my all-time favourite reads. She’s my age, grew up in my city and references things I just know so well.
        She and Nick Earls co-wrote a great novel – ‘Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight.’

        For in all your spare time, of course ;o)

        1. Thanks M! I was dismayed not to find World of Chickens on kindle (I’m rubbish with paper books these days) but just had another look and it’s there under a pseudonym – ‘Green.’ And having read Head Games, I can guess where that title comes from!

          I’ve visited your city once. Not for long, but it’s fun reading stories set there. 🙂

  2. Great resources! As a parent with a 5yo kid who has 3 of the 4 (OEs, SPD, gifted, among other things) it’s so hard sometimes to tell what’s causing which specific behavior at the time – and we’re experienced now after 2+ years of dealing with it! I want a manual for this kid, seriously!

    In all honesty, OT never really helped us. In hindsight we should have looked for a different one who was willing to listen.

    In our experience, OEs differ from SPD in the range of severity. If the sensory issues are impacting your life so much that they prevent you from living normally (i.e. we couldn’t use public restrooms for a year because he would bolt when someone turned on the hand dryers) then it’s probably SPD over OEs. But – we’ve decided that he’s probably just psychomotor OE instead of ADHD – the diagnosis that he has – because he doesn’t fully fit the ADHD specs.

    Not to bash the experts, but it’s reading resources like these that helped us the most, because the experts had never heard of OEs. Go figure. Thanks for a great post!

    1. Mary, Thank you for your generous and insightful comment. Sorry to take so long to reply. I was on a course last week and you know how a few days out causes everything to pile up!

      I agree that all these issues are on a continuum. They’re also all models (theories). And if a model / theory is helpful, then great, let’s use it.

      OEs expert Simone de Hoogh of PowerWood suggests in her workshops that about 20% of people have OEs, with about 2% having them to a degree that severely impacts everyday life. My son is definitely in the 2% at this point. I probably wouldn’t consider myself in the 2%, but I, too, bolt from the noise of those awful hand dryers. (And am amazed that other people can stand around apparently indifferent to them. What a different experience of life they must have from me!)

      I completely agree that it’s reading other parents’ experiences – like your brilliant blog – that’s most helpful. 🙂

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