In this book review of 'The Orchid and the Dandelion: why some people struggle and how all can thrive', I discuss the wonderful work of paediatrician and researcher W Thomas Boyce, who noticed some anomalies in the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) data that was not accounted for - individual variation in stress reactivity for some 20% of children. They made up the vast majority of children's admissions to hospital and in doctor's surgeries. And grew up to be the Highly Sensitive People (HSP's) of Elaine Aron's book of the same name.
His experiences of growing up in his own family with a sensitive sister who eventually succumbed to mental illness, has prompted him to explore how it is that some 'orchid' children are unusually sensitive to their environment and how that operates. He found that cortisol was raised to much smaller inputs or changes in these children and this affected their mental and physical health in profound ways. It changes blood sugar regulation, inflammation, immunity, hormonal regulation generally and breakdown of tissues (especially teeth!)
He also discusses how this works by epigenetic means and is heritable (i.e. higher stress response itself transfers down the generations despite what experiences that child has). He found an easy way to tell if a child was sensitive (not just by measuring their cortisol but by their right ear temperature which was higher than their left - presumably because their right pre-frontal cortex which is close to the inner ear are more active. This is opposite to most children.. and not something that most people know.
In the final chapter he offers us 6 ways in which to help sensitive orchid children thrive which include the importance of recognising difference, attunement and creative play.
This is an important and beautifully written book which compellingly details both his personal and professional view of interviewing and researching over 25 years of children's experiences of early life and how this then plays out in adulthood. It is a good update on the ACE studies although not linked to them in any formal way.
He has a great TED talk here which I would also highly recommend. I can be contacted on alchemytherapies.co.uk and now fatigue-free.me my collaborative venture with other therapists.