If you hang around in gifted circles for any length of time, you’ll start to hear a lot of talk about overexcitabilities. I thought it might be fun to do a post on overexcitabilities, and what they look like in real life- my little poppies-style!
Gifted Overexcitabilities: OEs IRL
Where did the term “overexcitabilities” come from?
I remember being completely fascinated by theories of personality development, especially back in college when I sat in Dr. Spiegler’s Personality 101. Today, I’m going to dust off the cobwebs in my noggin’ and share a bit of the info with you all, and then I’ll show you what OEs look like in real life! First the nitty-gritty and then the fun, folks!
Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski is perhaps best-known for his Theory of Positive Disintegration, a complex human personality theory based on emotions and development. Without boring you with too much detail, I will share these snippets:
- Dabrowski’s theory suggests that human personality development takes place through a process of psychological disintegrations and reintegrations known as positive disintegration, whereby a person progresses through five levels of development, from an egocentric instinct-driven level to one of empathy and altruism.
- This personality development is dependent upon a person’s unique developmental potential, or DP.
- Whether or not an individual reaches his or her DP depends on upon the confluence of several factors, including special abilities and talents/genetics, overexcitability, and internal drive/autonomy.
- Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration asserts that one must go through emotional conflicts and struggles as part of the growth process. I like to think of it as a two-steps-forward-three-steps-back sort of thing.
- Dabrowski maintained that those with the highest DP may experience more intense crises.
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration is so much more complex than this little nugget that I am providing you with, and overexcitabilities are just one small part of that complex theory, but I wanted you to have a smidgen of background information before I start jumping into overexcitabilities.
Overexcitabilities and giftedness
Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities have been embraced by the gifted community as it helps to explain the extreme sensitivity and intensity that is common among gifted individuals.
Overexcitabilities are innate sensitivities and intensities and heightened responses to environmental stimuli.
Dabrowski identified five overexcitabilities:
So, in a nutshell:
Overexcitabilties are one aspect of Dabrowski’s famous Theory of Positive Disintegration, a complex theory of personality development. There are five overexcitabilities. Overexcitabilities are not limited to gifted individuals, although they are commonly identified among the gifted.
Whew! How’d I do? Did that make any sense at all, folks? It’s been years since I sat in Dr. Spiegler’s lecture hall but I remember being wholly fascinated by it all.
Now that I’m done with the nitty-gritty, I’m going to show you some overexcitabilities in real life, or -because that was a Tremendous Mouthful– OEs IRL.
Intellectual overexcitability is the OE most associated with gifted individuals. When you think of a gifted child’s inborn curiosity, unbelievable ability to analyze and problem solve, and his or her unquenchable thirst for knowledge, that’s the intellectual overexcitability.
Intellectual overexcitability IRL
Leo is the most curious creature I’ve ever encountered. From the time he could speak, he was asking big questions. I remember once, at age two, he took apart his radiator because he wanted to see how it worked. He’s constantly questioning, creating, inventing, and problem-solving. I wish I had an ounce of his curiosity (or his energy- but that’s another OE so stay tuned!).
Here are some MLP related to intellectual overexcitability:
Children with imaginational overexcitabilities have unbelievably vivid imaginations. These children often get lost in their own little worlds, have imaginary playmates, and they tell tall tales. Left unchecked, these imaginations can result in BIG worries. Properly channeled, these children have limitless creativity!
Imaginational overexcitability IRL
All three of my children have wonderful imaginations, however, I have a child who can morph into any character at a moment’s notice. He can stay in character for an entire day when he wants to, or he can wear many hats. For a couple of years, Seuss had an imaginary “daughdette” (his daughter). He has always been able to tell the tallest of tales. Ask him to tell you a story, and you’re in for a [very long] treat!
Imaginational OE looks like Bear Man:
…or, this rock star right here:
Here are some MLP posts related to imaginational overexcitability:
While those outside of gifted circles are familiar with intellectual overexcitability, emotional overexcitability may be the first OE identified by parents of gifted children. These kids tend to be zero to sixty in their emotions. These children can be supremely sensitive, and they can worry quite a bit, in large part due to their asynchronous nature. I love this Pearl S. Buck quote because I think it captures the essence of an emotional OE kiddo so well:
A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him… a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.
Emotional overexcitability IRL
Emotional overexcitability can manifest in a variety of ways. You could have the emotional OE kid, like Leo, who is so asynchronous that he worries about and loses sleep over life’s big issues: global warming, war, hunger, death, etc. Leo goes from zero to sixty in his emotions. If he’s happy, he’s over-the-moon, bouncing off the walls, ecstatic. If he’s sad, he dissolves into a mushy mess of the boy on the floor. If he’s angry, he can rage like a storm. Or, you could also have the emotional OE kiddo, like T, who enters a room and immediately senses the emotions of everyone around her, and who puts the needs of others before her own. T’s emotional OEs are more subtle, they aren’t as in-your-face as Leo’s, instead, they are internalized, underground. As a parent, I tend to worry more about T’s emotional OEs because I think she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders a lot of the time. I want to make sure that she learns how to take care of herself, too.
Here are some MLP posts related to emotional overexcitability:
Those with psychomotor overexcitability appear to have boundless energy. They are the fast talkers, the never-stop-moving, the cannot sit still types of people. Those with psychomotor OEs are just more than those around them – you can feel worn out just by watching them. Not surprisingly, psychomotor OE is often confused with ADHD.
Psychomotor overexcitability IRL
I always say that Leo is my “tornado full of boy” and it’s the best descriptor I have for him. He is a whirlwind of movement and noise, questions, and climbing, twists and turns. He’s impossible to keep up with, folks, and he’s always been that way. Even when he’s doing something that should be calm, like reading or sleeping, he’s in constant motion.
Psychomotor OE in a 4-year-old who reads can look like this:
Or, you might be living with psychomotor OEs when you go snowshoeing and your kid keeps doing this:
And lest you think that psychomotor OE refers only to physical movements, I want you to know that I totally count the nonstop verbiage and, quite frankly, non-stop noise emanating from his little mouth:
Here are some MLP posts related to psychomotor overexcitability:
Those with sensual overexcitability tend to have a heightened senses and sensual experiences. These can be both positive and negative experiences. You read about children who cannot have any tags in their clothing and need to wear seamless socks or none at all- that is a form of tactile oversensitivity. There are also children who have an early appreciation for aesthetics, from art to music to language. A song or painting can bring tears to their eyes.
Sensual Overexcitability IRL
My boys could be the poster children for sensual overexcitabilities. First, we have Leo who has always struggled with sensory stuff. He’s over-sensitive to auditory input and under-sensitive to tactile input. He is the classic sensory seeker.
This summer, Leo was either doing this:
He is in constant motion, often climbing and bumping into things. He loves nothing more than to run around wild and then sprawl on burning hot pavement in 90-degree heat to rest. Talk about a seeker! Leo is a kid who is under-sensitive to tactile input (thus the burning pavement). He often wears his clothes backward or inside-out without noticing. Who can wear a collared shirt backward and not notice? Leo.
And then there is Seuss. He is over-sensitive to tactile input. He loathes sticky fingers and sandy feet and he would rather wear his birthday suit than anything else.
Sensual OE can present in a child who refuses to wear clothes:
Here are some MLP posts related to sensual overexcitability:
Parenting a child with overexcitabilities
I remember all the paperwork involved during Leo’s assessment, from the developmental profile to the countless behavior rating scales and questionnaires. During my interview with the psychologist following this first phase of assessment but prior to the cognitive and academic testing, I remember the psychologist remarking that Leo had every single OE. At the time, I was overwhelmed and not fully processing, but later I read up on OEs. This time, I wasn’t a student in Dr. Spiegler’s class but a parent of a kid with every OE in the book. I remember feeling so relieved, knowing that our “normal” was normal for a certain population.
If I can give any advice to other parents of full-of-OE kids, it would be this: read about it so that you can understand your child better and then make peace with it. This is part of your child’s unique personality. Accept it, celebrate it, laugh about it when you need to- but don’t waste your time trying to change something you cannot. These OEs will ebb and flow over time, and in time your child will grow to manage his or her OEs, but these qualities are part of your child’s uniqueness. And you know that proverbial apple? It never falls far, folks. I’m willing to bet that once you grow to understand and accept the OEs in your child, you will discover some of your own!
Now, it’s your turn. Are you parenting a child with overexcitabilities? What do OEs IRL look like in your neck of the woods? Share here- I love hearing from you!
Parents, if you are looking for a community of parents who get this gifted thing? If so, c’mon over to Raising Poppies. You’ll feel right at home!
This post has been part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page September 2015 Blog Hop: Overexcitabilities. Please click the image below to keep on hoppin’!
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram