Examining Sensitivity
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 Examining Sensitivity
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Part One - The Connection between Ultra-sensitivity and LD/ADD
Part Two - The Affects of Ultra-sensitivity on Our Lives
Part Three - The Gifts of Ultra-sensitivity (In Progress)
Websites and Links

Part One - The Connection between Ultra-sensitivity and LD/ADD

By Elizabeth Bogod

Do you sometimes feel that you unusually overreact to everyday situations? For instance, do you find yourself easily frustrated, moved to tears, overwhelmed while others in the same situation seem to be unaffected?  Do you think of yourself as a sensitive person?  Well, you may have good reason to think so. There is some evidence to back up the fact that people with learning disabilities and/or Attention Deficit Disorder are typically more prone to sensitivity and, for sure, the topic of oversensitivity comes up frequently In IADA support groups.

Being ultra-sensitive is not necessarily a bad thing. Most of us like to think of ourselves as being caring, thoughtful, sensitive folk and LD/ADD hyper-sensitivity may even be a strength, but I will talk about this in a later newsletter.

To start, I want to clarify exactly what is meant by the term “Highly Sensitive Person”. The term “highly sensitive person” was first introduced into pop psychology by Dr. Elaine Aron, author of  ““The Highly Sensitive Person - How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You”.  Dr. Aron describing persons with this characteristic as having an extremely sensitive nervous system. In other words, she contends highly sensitive people are biologically more sensitive to external stimuli such as glaring lights, strong odors, and clutter, not just emotional stimuli (Aron, 1999). Most of us only think of  the academic difficulties associated with LD and ADD, but if Dr. Aron’s theory holds good, then ultra-sensitivity will likely affect every aspect of our lives including all aspects of daily living,  family, and work and school.

 It is important to note that being highly sensitive does not mean you have a disorder. It is rather a characteristic or personality trait. Unfortunately, no research exists to link this particular theory to LD or ADD. However, Dr. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., with her concept of sensory integration, does present significant evidence of a link between ultra-sensitivity and LD/ADD (Sensory Integration International: FAQ). This theory describes dysfunction in processing information through the senses (touch, movement, smell, taste, vision, and hearing). Some signs of this sensory integration dysfunction include:

 Oversensitivity to touch movement, sights, or sounds

Hypo or Hyperactivity
Complaints about how clothes feel - especially tags, socks, and shoes
Difficulty making transitions from one situation to another
Inability to unwind or calm self
Delays in speech, language, or motor skills
Delays in academic achievement
Frequent Mood Changes

Does any of the above sound familiar to you?  Research indicates that up to 70% of children with learning problems experience characteristics of this sort (Sensory Integration International: FAQ). So it is conceivable that LD/ADD adults are more neurologically susceptible to being highly sensitive individuals.

So what does this research mean for you? It means that you can take comfort in knowing that high sensitivity is NOT a personality flaw. It means that it may help you come to terms accuse you of  being "too sensitive", "overly emotional", "weak", or "thin-skinned".  Comments like these may make you feel bad about yourself or shamed into change but knowing the reasons for the source of your hyper-sensitivity - that it is the result of the way your central nervous system copes with stimuli - may help you to cope with people who criticize you because they do not understand your sensitivities.

More importantly, though, you are beginning to understand a new side of your LD/ADD.  In the next News Letter, you will find out about the gifts of being highly sensitive and more…!

Do you have any thoughts or experiences to share on the topic of ultra-sensitivity and LD/ADD?  Send your comments to our mailing address or email us at  iada-victoria@shaw.ca


Aron, Elaine. The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You . Broadway Books, 1999.

Sensory Integration International, “Frequently Asked Questions”. Available at: http://www.sensoryint.com/faq.html

Part Two - The Affects of Ultra-sensitivity on Our Lives 

by Liz Bogod

The previous newsletter discussed the connection between ultra-sensitivity and LD/ADD. We now explore this connection further and take a deeper look at the affects of ultra-sensitivity on our lives. 

Having LD/ADD may mean you are more sensitive than the average individual. In fact, many definitions of LD and ADD include “emotional instability” as a defining characteristic. Throughout history, gifted people such as artists, writers and musicians have demonstrated ultra-sensitive characteristics. Given the fact that so many people with LD and/or ADD are, in fact, creatively and intellectually gifted, it follows that they, too, are likely to be highly sensitive individuals.

Dabrowski, a psychiatrist who specializes in giftedness, proposes five areas of extreme sensitivity in gifted individuals which he terms as “over-excitabilities”. You may recognize some of the following areas in yourself:

Psychomotor - Need for extreme physical activity, movement, and sports activity

Hyperactivity, restlessness; inability to quell non-stop inner thought processes  (often cause of sleeping problems); highly pronounced gesturing, fast talking

 Sensual - Heightened sensory awareness

Over-reaction to sensory input (bad smells, bright lights, loud noises, etc); heightened tactile sensitivity (e.g. to textured fabrics); finds some sensory input intolerable and may need to leave location of stimuli

Imaginational - Thinks and lives in fantasy worlds

The poets, the fantasizers, the “space cadets” of this world; uses metaphorical speech; day dreams; remembers and reacts strongly to night dreams

Intellectual - A heightened response to intellectual questions and problems

Intense focus on particular topic, difficulty diverting away from topic (which may interfere with development of social relationships); often a highly ethical, moral topic requiring sustained analytical thinking abilities; difficulty letting go of the world’s problems without continual questioning

  Emotional  - Heightened emotional reactions and attachments to people

Emotions experienced in extremes; need to develop strong emotional attachments; self-examination; natural ability for empathy and compassion; often perceives others as not caring enough; susceptibility to depression and anxiety

Sound Familiar? Share your experiences: iada-victoria@shaw.ca

Next Newsletter: The Gifts of Ultra-Sensitivity!


Sharon Lind, “Overexcitability and the Gifted”. SENG Newsletter, May 2001 
Available at:

Part Three - The Gifts of Ultra-sensitivity 

(In Progress)

Websites and Links

 hsperson.com - Elaine Aron’s “Highly Sensitive Person” website to accompany the book.

 thomaseldridge.com – The Center for Highly Sensitive People

 ultra-sensitive.com - Roger Easterbrook’s site offering support and counseling for Highly Sensitive People as named and defined by the research of Dr. Elaine Aron  

sinetwork.org – Sensory Integration Resource Center

http://home.earthlink.net/~sensoryint - Sensory Integration International

sengifted.org/ - S.E.N.G - A non-profit organization supporting the needs of gifted individuals

hoagiesgifted.org/ - Hoagies' Gifted Education Page. Also see Hoagies Sensitivity Page for more about this topic.