Category Archives: Our Story

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

Toy sheep - highly sensitive, spd, gifted OEs - Laugh Love Learn


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

How I Finally Found My Tribe

PowerWood Summer Camp

My life changed dramatically a year ago. I’ve always been an outlier, flitting round the edges of social groups, never comfortably fitting into one group for long.

I’ve managed for short periods, like when my kids started school and I somehow found myself a member the cool mummy clique for a few months. But sooner or later I’d get tired of pretending to be someone I’m not. I’d start to reveal my odd little quirks, my unusual way of looking at the world, and the invitations would gradually dry up.

Sometimes acquaintances would withdraw more abruptly, like when I threw a huge spanner in the school mum network by taking my kids out of school to home-educate them. I began home-educating because I could see that school wasn’t the right place for my outlier kids, but people sometimes think that homeschoolers have made their kids different by taking them out of school, rather than vice versa.

This confusion between cause and effect carries over to parenting generally. My kids are different from average. They are both, in their own ways, intense, sensitive, easily-overwhelmed and hyper-reactive.  Parenting techniques that work on most kids don’t work with mine. Luckily I figured this out very early and turned instead to books like Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason.

But other people thought my kids had meltdowns because I wasn’t strict enough. I couldn’t really blame them – it’s how humans are wired. If their kid used to have temper tantrums and they tried a technique that worked, of course they’re going to think that if only everyone used that method, there’d be no badly-behaved kids.

As my son got older, the gap between his behaviour and that of his peers grew wider – and I became lonelier and lonelier. My husband, who spends less time with our children than me, wasn’t convinced we shouldn’t just be trying a bit harder with some of those traditional methods of discipline (I hate that word).

In the absence of any external support, instead of working together to help our son we were wasting our energy, at best arguing about what we should be doing, and at worst accusing each other of making his problems worse.

Then just under a year ago we finally found what we needed: community. A group of parents who were experiencing very similar issues to us, who were familiar with our challenges, who understood how it felt to be judged and misunderstood, and who knew better than to point the finger and ask, “Why don’t you just take away his iPad?”

Within this community we’ve found the validation, compassion and information we desperately needed. And once we stopped blaming ourselves for our son’s non-average behaviour, we were able to understand him better. Freed from worry that he was ‘abnormal’ we could see more clearly where he needed support, and we could also begin to share with our kids what we were discovering about the positive side of overexcitabilities.

The PowerWood Community

The person who introduced us to that community was a wise and compassionate lady called Simone de Hoogh. Simone was inspired by her experiences with her own children to create PowerWood,  the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation supporting families dealing with sensitivity, intensity and super-reactivity.

Everyone I’ve met who’s come into contact with PowerWood expresses the same feelings of relief and gratitude – finally someone gets their family. Perhaps that explains why Simone is now supported at PowerWood by a team of more than 50 volunteers helping share her wonderful work.

Here are 5 ways you can connect with the PowerWood community:

(1) Go to a PowerWood workshop

The next PowerWood OE Workshop (Intensity, Super-sensitivity and Hyper-reactivity) is happening in London on 12 and 13 March 2016. You can go to one or both days.

If you can’t make the workshop, Simone is hosting a free, informal ‘coffee with Simone’ event (also in London) on Friday 11 March 2016.

If you’re reading this after those dates, check the PowerWood website for future workshops.

(2) Join the PowerWood Facebook group

In the PowerWood Facebook group you’ll find encouragement, information and support from Simone de Hoogh, a team of friendly PowerWood volunteers and a wonderful bunch of other folks who are dealing with the opportunities and challenges life with intensity and sensitivity brings.

(3) Go to a PowerWood summer camp

I’ll say it now, I am not a natural camper. I find the whole process of packing my kitchen into my car and sleeping under canvas for several days completely overwhelming.

So it’s saying something that I utterly loved my first PowerWood camp  last summer. Being with kindred spirits for an extended period and participating in Simone’s workshops while my kids happily played with new friends left me on a real high, not to mention equipped with a whole bunch of information and tools to support my kids. (That’s me up there in the photo, hanging out with my tribe at the camp.)

As well as plenty of craft and play activities for kids, Simone even runs workshops for children and teens at the PowerWood summer camp. My children came away from these sessions understanding themselves better, and after meeting them in person, Simone was able to reassure me that they are quite ‘normal’ intense and sensitive kids!

(4)  Book a free 1-hour introductory Skype support session

I’m a therapist and coach myself, and over the years I’ve had some great coaching from a variety of people to help me in my life and as a parent. But nothing has ever hit the spot like the Skype support sessions I’ve had with Simone over the last year.

If you have OEs, there’s no substitute for getting support from someone who both understands how that feels and who can offer the information and tools to make a real difference to the issues you’re struggling with. (Book a support session here.)

(5) Sign up for the PowerWood newsletter

The monthly PowerWood newsletter contains stories from other parents together with information about upcoming PowerWood events. If you’re not quite ready for a workshop, signing up for the newsletter might be a good first step to finding out if the PowerWood community is right for you. (You can sign up here.)

Before I met Simone I’d read plenty online about twice exceptional children. I’d even visited the PowerWood website. But with so much information out there I found it difficult to pick out what was truly relevant to my own family.

What I needed was to connect with real people, to find my tribe. If you have sensitive, intense children, join me in the PowerWood community. You won’t regret it.


Of course, I’d love you to help other people find community too by sharing this post or by  liking Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook. 🙂

How I discovered that OEs aren’t something that needs fixing


How I learned that OEs aren't something that needs fixingOverexcitabilities can look very different from one individual to another, which is why it took me so long to identify them as the reason for my son’s unusual behaviour. I’d seen OEs briefly mentioned, but only connection with giftedness, which isn’t talked about here in the UK. (I can imagine it now, like a scene from a sitcom. My son mid-meltdown in the Harry Potter Experience gift shop, while I explain to frowning onlookers, “It’s because he’s gifted, you know”.)

No one here talks about giftedness, and no one talks about overexcitabilities.

Before I found the one person in Britain who does talk about OEs (she’s Dutch) we’d taken our son to see half a dozen ‘experts’, none of whom could explain his extreme reactions. They mostly agreed, though, that his behaviour needed fixing so he could have a normal life.

Sensitivity and intensity reframed

I knew the PowerWood workshop was going to be different when, within the first half hour, we were looking at photos of people like Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Princess Diana, Alfred Nobel and PewDiePie  (ask your children about the last one).

What did all these people have in common? They didn’t achieve what they did by curing their OEs – they succeeded because of them.

Finally someone was saying something that resonated with my experience. Yes, my son may be challenging at times, but I’ve always known that his intense energy, imagination, curiosity and zest for life could one day take him wherever he wants to go.

Each OE provides the energy or fuel that contributes to the development of a ... young person's talent.

The five types of OE

Our workshop leader Simone de Hoogh went on to talk in detail about the five types of overexcitability – emotional, imaginational, sensual, intellectual and psychomotor. As I listened to the characteristics of each type of OE and the challenges and opportunities related to them, I began to sense a framework within which every single aspect of my intense, sensitive son’s behaviour made perfect sense. The relief was incredible.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring each type of OE and giving a few examples from my family’s experience. I’d love you to join me and share your own stories along the way.

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