Sensory overload is emerging as a core neurological condition that can have far-reaching repercussions for attachment and development, including attention, emotion, personality and social relations. New understandings of the brain illuminate the processes involved in the sensory gating system, and when viewed through the lens of developmental science, reveal a way through that is surprisingly counter to most prevailing methods of intervention. These new insights bring great hope that the often devastating repercussions of what we refer to as ‘hypersensitivity’ can actually be reversed, greatly improving functioning and opening the door to a fuller realization of potential. The course is divided into four sessions which are outlined below.

Course Description

New understandings of how the brain works, when viewed through a comprehensive appreciation of attachment, human vulnerability and the developmental process, hold great promise for unraveling some of the most confounding mysteries of childhood. Evidence is mounting that the neurological condition of sensory overload may very well be the root cause and common denominator of a myriad of diverse manifestations and syndromes, including autism, some types of attention problems and even a form of giftedness. The huge diversity of symptoms results from both the degree of severity of the neurological condition as well as the domino effect on a child’s attachments, emotions and resulting development. If understood and properly addressed, sensory overload issues can usually be compensated for and much of the secondary domino effect can be reversed. Dr. Neufeld will discuss the most promising interventions, including the cultivating of strong attachments, the priming of the human adaptive process, and the harnessing of true play as Nature’s own remedial and corrective process.

Suitability/Applicability

It is hard to think of anyone for whom this course would not be suitable. Everyone in today’s world knows someone who demonstrates the signs of hypersensitivity in one way or another, but few will appreciate the meaning of what they are observing. We cannot effectively address a problem we do not understand. This course will have special relevance for parents, grandparents, teachers and therapists of the hypersensitive, as well as to those who suspect that hypersensitivity might be the explanation for their very own baffling experiences.

Topics/Objectives

Objectives include:

  • to provide insight into a root neurological condition that underlies a diverse number of syndromes that are affecting a growing number of our children
  • to provide a coherent model of autism that can guide our interactions and interventions
  • to reveal the developmental inappropriateness of most prevailing approaches to autism as well as some basic flaws in our understanding of giftedness and attention problems
  • to help differentiate the condition of hypersensitivity from conditions of high sensitivity
  • to help differentiate the reversible repercussions of hypersensitivity from the root neurological condition of hypersensitivity itself
  • to reveal the greater need of the hypersensitive for deep emotional connections to caring adults as well as the need to work within their relational contexts
  • to reveal true play as the context where Nature does its remedial and restorative work
  • to support the role of the parent in becoming the answer the hypersensitive child truly needs

Topics include:

  • how the sensory gating system works and what can go wrong
  • how the attention system works and what can go wrong
  • the three main tasks of the sensory gating system and so the corresponding disabilities when it is dysfunctional
  • why the brains of the hypersensitive are often larger
  • how to recognize defendedness in the attention system
  • some tell-tale signs of hypersensitivity
  • how current diagnostic criteria of autism both eclipse and distract from the root neurological condition
  • the three primary causes of sensory gating problems
  • why males are more predisposed to sensory gating problems
  • how to come alongside the sensory-overloaded child and compensate for the hypersensitivity
  • how sensory gating problems deliver a double blow to the brain’s defense systems and what can be done about this
  • why the hypersensitive are predisposed to attachment problems including elevated alpha instincts, oppositionality, depersonalization of attachment impulses, and defensive detachment
  • why the hypersensitive have difficulty feeling their emotions as well as identifying their feelings
  • why the hypersensitive tend to be more impulsive and emotionally immature
  • how to recognize attachment in its depersonalized manifestations
  • why the hypersensitive are often less reflective and have less venturing forth energy
  • the kinds of isolated manifestations of giftedness that typically have their roots in hypersensitivity
  • why the ‘gifted’ are often more fragile
  • how to restore neural plasticity in the brains of the hypersensitive
  • why the hypersensitive are more prone to aggression and how best to handle and address these problems
  • why attachment is required to compensate for the deficits inherent in hypersensitivity
  • how to reverse the attachment problems of the hypersensitive and how to cultivate the fruitful working attachments they require
  • why the play mode is necessary for neuron rewiring and how to best activate the play mode in the hypersensitive
  • suggestions for dealing with the hypersensitive child in the school setting and in the therapeutic setting
  • how to use play to defuse the elevated alpha, counterwill and aggressive impulses
  • how to use play to regulate attention and emotion as well as to provide the conditions for optimizing development and functioning
  • how to create the kind of emotional playgrounds the hypersensitive child most needs

Course Outline

Session 1 - Hypersensitivity as a sensory gating problem
Neuroscience has revealed that the brain’s first line of defense has to do with controlling the nature and amount of input allowed into the brain at any given time. It is this sensory gating system that is now the prime suspect in this condition that we are calling hypersensitivity. Any stuckness or dysfunction in this defense system can have potentially devastating repercussions, affecting attention, attachment, emotion, awareness, learning, and even brain development itself. The good news is that if properly understood, these repercussions can be reversed. In this session the basic condition of hypersensitivity is described along with its primary impact on attention, emotion and relationships. A checklist for hypersensitivity is provided and the main known causes of the condition are outlined. The primary tasks of the sensory gating system are discussed, providing a context for understanding the implications when the defensive filter systems are dysfunctional. Strategies are given for how to compensate for this underlying dysfunction.

Session 2 - Hypersensitivity, vulnerability and defendedness
The brain’s inability to sufficiently control the incoming signals greatly increases the inherent vulnerability of the child. Since the brain’s primary way of defending itself is compromised, other defenses within the brain are typically activated to compensate. These defenses can include general emotional shutdown but most typically involve major attachment defenses such as the depersonalization of attachment, defensively elevated alpha instincts and defensive detachment. The impact on the relational context in which children are meant to be raised can be profound, rending such children highly challenging to care for, manage, or teach. Insight is provided for how to identify these attachment defensives and strategies given to reverse them.

Session 3 - Hypersensitivity, adaptation and aggression
Adaptation is the emotional process responsible for healing, recovery and resilience, including the development of work-around’s in the brain for that which doesn’t work. The irony of hypersensitive children is that they are in dire need of adapting yet less likely to experience the emotional conditions that are conducive to this process. Aggression is a primary indicator of both the need, as well as the failure, of adaptation. Nothing could be more important than restoring the neural plasticity of the brain of the hypersensitive child. Strategies are provided for how to do this as well as how to handle the aggression of the non-adaptive child in such a way as to not exacerbate the underlying problem.

Session 4 - Hypersensitivity, attachment and play
In this session we focus on the two kinds of interventions that are most promising for deep and lasting change. The more dysfunctional the hypersensitive brain, the more in need for strong emotional connections with caring adults to compensate. A strong working relationship is also necessary to provide the conditions that are conducive to emotional health and optimal development. Such children should not be dealt with outside a context of attachment.

The play mode is being discovered as the context in which the brain heals itself, neural plasticity is maximized, attachments are more likely to form, attention is at play, emotions tend to self-regulate, and new neural networking takes place. We explore the kind of play that is most helpful and provide suggestions of how to activate the play mode in the child.

Registration Details

This course is being offered for the first time in a live, online environment by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Jule Epp in November 2018.
It is not yet available for study in an self paced online format.

Course Coordinator

Neufeld Institute Faculty member Jule Epp is the coordinator for this course.

© 2018 The Neufeld Institute
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