Friday, February 12, 2010

Eczema and the Hyper-Sensitive Child

Read this article and was sad to find that, once again, people who should know better confused correlation and causation.  Now they're going to waste a lot of time looking for how a skin overreaction causes mental illness.

Really, I can tell them all about this. I have one of these kids.

What they've identified as a "cause" (eczema) is actually one of the signs, or symptoms, of a certain type of person that is also prone to asthma, depression, etc.  This is what I call a Hyper-Sensitive Child. It's not a formal diagnosis because, despite the fact that there are hundreds of these kids out there (obviously enough that they managed a whole study on them), nobody has formally recognized these kids (So I'm fighting my own battles when it comes to church, school, etc).

Daniel is one of these.

The Hyper-Sensitive Child has a system that is emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually hyper-sensitive. It goes beyond shy or drama queen. These kids' entire being (I, personally, think it's part of their Spirit, but nobody would scientifically take me seriously if I said that) is filtered through a hyper-sensitive, hyper-responsive system that assumes attack where there is none intended, and then overreacts to those attacks. It's a kind of extreme hyper-sensitivity that makes even the overreactive, hyper sensitive systems of profoundly gifted kids look relatively normal.

It's like having an allergic soul.

Let me explain:  Allergies happen when the body becomes sensitized to some inert thing and interprets that as a dangerous attack on the system.

Eczema is the same kind of overreaction in the skin's immune system (this is not scientifically proven; there is actually lots of debate about it, but Daniel--and I--learned this is the cause when Dan got a blessing once). Dan's skin fights off attacks from all kinds of "dangers" that the rest of us (and our skin) realizes is not danger--like dryer sheets, laundry detergent, and maybe even nylon or polyester fibers (we're looking at that one). (Be aware that I think eczema is something of a catch-all, symptom-based diagnosis that can have other causes, too. But I think this particular cause is what the research in the article identified).

Social Phobia, which Dan was BORN with, is the same kind of overreaction in the child's social system. (To clarify: Social Phobia is not a fear of social situations, but of doing something embarrassing or wrong in a social situation; it's a fear of being socially attacked or maligned. An overreaction to an imagined possible threat.). I've seen Dan refuse to go back into primary after getting a drink because he dripped a little water on his shirt and he was afraid--paralyzingly afraid--that his teacher would notice and laugh or "correct" the "mistake". An overreaction to an imagined potential attack.

So it doesn't surprise me that the study found that kids with this kind of severe, long-lasting eczema (like Dan has) tend to grow up to have mental illnesses like depression. What is depression but an extreme, "overreacting" sorrow system? And if sorrow (intense sorrow, mind you) can be triggered by imagined slights, you can see how depression could be an issue. Other mental illnesses, too, like social phobia, other extreme phobias (Daniel refuses to touch anything made of glass for fear he will drop and break it) that would flash across your mind as a possible negative outcome to the hyper-sensitive child are overwhelming. In fact, I read a study about 5 years ago that indicated that small children, if exposed to trauma, can become predisposed to depression for the rest of their lives--and hyper-sensitive kids can find relatively  normal things (like being left in nursery) extraordinarily traumatic. Hyper-sensitive children tend to feel they've been emotionally abused when you ask them to not bang their spoon on the table during dinner, or wipe their feet when they come in, or when someone else gets chosen to say the prayer in primary (even though they never raised their hand).  They're the ones who want intensely to play the game or try the experiment, but refuse to say so and resent being forced. (I have learned over the years to tell Dan that he's not going to get  a chance if he doesn't act so that he doesn't miss his chance and feel devastated). They are cautious to a fault (quite literally) and hesitant to act even though they've studied it all out and know EXACTLY what needs to be done, how to do it, and how to improve on what everyone else is doing.

After all, mental disorders are simply mental orders that have been disrupted and carried too far, and that's the name of the game for hyper-sensitive children.

It's not all bad, of course. Most things aren't. Daniel is also hyper-sensitive to other people's emotions, making him extremely empathetic. He is extremely creative, good with details, extremely quick on the uptake and on understanding the implications of things (but afraid to answer questions in case he might not be completely right). He responds well to praise because he feels the positives so intensely (I remember him being brought to tears by a compliment I gave him when he was 1 year old!), and is extremely loving, loyal, and fun (although the fun often dissolves into a "wound up" state that he can't break out of or into tears because he runs on high so often). He's a great musician. He's extremely deeply thoughtful. He is very spiritual. He is also peace-loving and laughter-loving (he feels it when people are happy and wants them to be happy). He is inclined to work hard, play hard, laugh hard, and love deeply.

The article cites "psychological abnormalities" and "emotional problems" in 10 year olds who had eczema as small children, and then says that the eczema somehow must cause that. Really, I suspect the psychological abnormalities all fall in the range of "hypersensitivities" and the results of those (like phobias) and that the emotional problems came (and come) from how the hypersensitivities were (and are) treated. Parents of sensitive kids are told, often, to essentially throw them in the pool, and they'll discover they can swim and be glad of it. And I suppose it might work for sensitive kids.

But for Hyper-sensitive kids, it can be devastating, leading to severe and debilitating mental illness that never goes away. Ever. Looking at it like allergies again: If you take a kid who is mildly allergic to something, like milk or flowers, repeated low doses are relatively harmless and, since kids often grow out of mild allergies, can reveal to a child that they aren't allergic anymore. But if you take a kid who has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, being forced to just eat one really CAN kill them. You get the sensitive and the hyper-sensitive.

So you take a slightly shy child and throw them into primary and say, "You'll be fine. You'll make tons of friends." And you know what? They are fine and they DO make tons of friends, and after one scary encounter, they adjust.

But you take a severely hyper-sensitive child and throw them into primary over their protests and say, "You'll be fine" and it can cause permanent issues in their poor brains, leading (as they are overreactive) to bizarre and unfortunate responses like agoraphobia, or separation anxiety disorder, or the kid insisting on sleeping not only in your bed but draped across you--every night for 3 years.

BUT if you can give them a real, live safe zone (by respecting their way of being, and listening to them, and helping them not be overstimulated too often, and LOVING them and being their safe place and never forcing them to do what is uncomfortable if possible), you make it possible for them to grow up and grow into (and out of) themselves. You give them tools to deal with their hyper-sensitive, overreactive souls so that eventually they can stretch their wings and fly on their own.

Will they ever grow out of who they are? No. Daniel (and the other hyper-sensitive children) will always be the one wearing natural fibers, living with no carpets and no pets, searching constantly for the shampoo and the laundry soap that doesn't cause rashes, watching their diets to eliminate all the stuff they react to (red 40? Yellow 5? BHT, Sodium Benzoate, psyllium, walnuts, etc etc etc....the list is long and different for each child), eating organic, being religious about sleep.

But I don't think it's a condemnation to a life of mental illness and depression.  After all "Predisposed" is not the same as "Predestined." And, given the chance and the nurturing required to develop the confidence they need, these kids have TONS to offer the world.

But no, the extreme eczema doesn't cause all of this, Scientists. Extreme eczema is just the skin's way of warning you that you have a hyper-sensitive child that needs to be treated carefully, like a precious crystal flower, while they grow strong.


Unknown said...

Eczema can be devistating, especially for kids! I can share what took care of it for my and my children. It is a cosmetic product called Regen. It is all natural, doesn't sting in the eyes, and is guaranteed! Best of all, it stops the itching! Look at these pics: Live well, Suz

Anonymous said...

My oldest had severe eczema and is very sensitive! What interesting connections you have drawn between the two. I appreciate you insight. Might I suggest Cerave cream, it changed my son's life, literally. May G-d bless your family.