Overexcitabilities are the key to understanding yourself and your gifted children. What makes a gifted person eccentric can generally be pin pointed to multiple overexcitabilities expressing themselves perhaps, at inopportune moments. Asynchronous development plays a huge part as well and without an appreciation for the impact of overexcitabilities, your children will likely confuse you and some may believe your child is disordered. Overexcitabilities are super powers that contribute to positive development and are a benefit to those who understand their authentic selves.
Overexcitabilities are a heightened sensitivity of the nervous system which foster intensity in gifted children and they explain why the gifted perceive and experience the world so differently from mainstream society. Overexcitabilities are often the most accurate way to determine giftedness once you understand them. Having an ultra sensitive nervous system can elicit some eccentric, even disordered looking behavior; however, they are not pathologies and they do not need fixing. Asynchrony also skews to the perception of pathology as developmental milestones are all over the place often with great disparity between the intellectual and social-emotional world. Many parents, early on in their gifted discovery, find this out-of-the-norm behavior to be troubling and unwanted. While overexcitabilities and asynchrony can bring in an element of challenge to an otherwise amiable child, these quirks should be allowed to flourish authentically in a supportive, loving environment. Overexcitabilities are a healthy, integral part of a gifted child’s positive development and we should celebrate them.
There can be a fine line between healthy, yet awkward, overexcitabilties in need of expression and disordered symptoms that may require remediation. When a child’s life is detrimentally affected by learning, social or behavioral differences then it could be symptomatic of a diagnosable condition that is negatively impacting a child’s overall development. When this is the case, coupled with giftedness, then a child would be considered twice-exceptional. Some gifted children, high in multiple overexcitabilities, are misdagnosed as their outward manifestations look symptomatic of many disorders. When looking through a conventional lens, many quirky gifted children in a mismatched environment can elicit diagnosable concern. It is helpful to connect with the child and figure out which environmental, social, psychological or emotional situations trigger their heightened awareness and discuss what can be done to ameliorate or avoid challenging experiences. Children with many overexcitabilities benefit by understanding how their overexcitabilities impact them and how to self-regulate in different environments.
Despite the intensity and often awkward expression of overexcitablities, they are, in fact, an asset and an integral component fueling developmental potential. Overexcitabilities are found more often in creative and gifted people which may be expressed as increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity representing a qualitative difference in how one experiences life. According to polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrwoski, who developed the notion of overexcitabilities as part of his larger theory of postive disintegration, there are five overexcitabilities that gifted children may experience: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional. Some children may espouse all or just a few overexcitabilities and each child experiences them in a different manner and magnitude. As one goes higher up the intellectual spectrum, the more likely multiple overexcitabilities will be present which contributes to the overall divergent nature of the profoundly gifted child.
Psychomotor overexcitability is something that I am intimately acquainted with as my kids and I all have this abundance of energy oozing out of us at all times. My youngest, Sutton, tumbles in lieu of walking, acts out fight scenes and breaks out into yoga poses all throughout the day. My oldest enjoys fidgeting with his hands and feet and always has a specific tactile, audible fidget with him to keep his mind engaged as he releases energy. Like my youngest, I burst out into yoga and dance poses wherever I am and I generally feel better when I take 2 yoga classes a day.
I have a lot of psychomotor excitement coursing through my body and I have to get it out of me or I will feel restrained and may become irritable. Each one of us exudes a surplus of energy and we all enjoy expending it. None of us have ADHD yet we all look hyperactive. When a child is high in psychomotor overexcitability, the go to diagnosis is ADHD which, sadly, happens to many children in conventional school settings. School embraces a sit still and focus on whatever the teacher puts in front of you mentality which is an impossible feat for a gifted child high in psychomotor overexcitability. In our home, an overactive nervous system is a super power providing us with ample energy reserves which fuel the mind to continue creating. When coupled with intellectual overexcitability there is no limit to the creative work product that spills out of us.
Sensual overexcitability displays itself in myriad ways and a child can be hypo sensitive, hyper sensitive or both. This is the one area where parents can really help their children learn their sensory triggers and develop self-soothing skills. For many highly sensitive children, the physical discomfort of certain textures and environments can really elicit a total sensory overload which can lead to a meltdown. My heightened photosensitivity makes enduring the harsh sun excruciating unless I am properly prepared for the outside world. Quieter, calmer places with minimal noise and few people work best for my husband and oldest child while my little one and I can navigate through boisterous waters. Sometimes a pre-game rundown before a sensory assaultive event is my best tool for preventing anxiety and navigating the outside world. When an environment has too much noise, harsh lighting and crowds, I need to engage in calming motivational talk to guide my sensitive souls through the experience. Intensities and sensitives are a child’s natural way of experiencing the world which may allow them to experience more joy in the creative, artistic and aesthetic world. When expressed in a healthy way, sensual overexcitabilities stimulate a deep awareness of the aesthetic world igniting astounding creative expression. If the sensitivities negatively impact a child’s daily life, that tips overexcitabilities into the pathology arena which necessitates a sensory diet and a lot of compassion.
Intellectual overexcitability may be the difference between a highly motived, self-directed, relentlessly focused gifted child and those that fall into the unmotivated, underachievement category. Liam and I are quite high in intellectual overexcitability and are well matched when debating. Our brains are constantly on alert and we love deconstructing every moment of our day flowing seamlessly into tangential conversations. We both crave knowledge, voraciously research and love the art of argument. Our divergent nature may be off putting for some but it is rooted in our authentic make-up. We linger in our minds and struggle with idleness and superficiality. We need depth and breadth.
Liam’s mind needs a hardcore workout much like an athlete in training. He is happiest when his brain is heavily massaged with higher level critical thinking, complexity and problem solving. After working one-on-one with his mentors, he exhibits a noticeable intellectual high that permeates his entire being. It is beautiful and necessary for him to exercise his overactive brain at full capacity. His energetic body stimulates his mind working harmoniously together to produce sustained mental focus on very challenging mathematics, programming and editing. He is the embodiment of extreme intellectual overexcitability and he hones it to his creatively prolific advantage.
Imaginational overexcitability is what ignites the creative types, the ones with original minds. Those high in imaginational overexcitability may enjoy mixing fantasy life with reality and are comfortable living life outside the lines. Oftentimes, young gifted children have imaginary friends and worlds that become part of daily, family life. Highly imaginative children view life from a radically different lens and are natural non-conformists. In school, the temperament of the gifted child high in imaginational overexcitability may likely be misconstrued as being off task and therefore ADHD inattentive type. Conventional thinking thrust upon these dreamer types may damage their souls and repress creativity. Sadly, some of these divergent thinkers may get medicated so they will tow the line and conform to the status quo. Sutton is incredibly high in imaginational and emotional overexcitabilities which likely contributes to his natural acting ability and his flair for animistic thinking. He is so emotionally expressive, deeply creative and incredibly divergent in how he experiences life. His ideas are wild and his outward expression showcases this.
Emotional overexcitability manifests as a wide range of intense emotions and those high in it are often accused of overreacting. Even when a child appears melodramatic, the feelings are deeply felt by them and we must accept them and their wide emotional range. These kids sweat the small stuff and feel the world deeply. What appears as a little upset to a parent may feel insurmountable to the child. Incredible, unpredictable mood swings are par for the course. My youngest is quite in touch with a deep emotional range and it can be entirely overwhelming for me when his intense emotions takeover. My husband is also quite emotionally extreme and he is quite comfortable connecting with our son’s emotionality during moments of turmoil. I tend to linger in the intellect and refer to logic over emotions in most instances so I am less helpful navigating his emotional range with him.
As I look at everything through a radical unschooling, strength based lens, I have been able to cultivate an enlightened awareness of my profoundly gifted boys’ temperaments. I appreciate the impact of overexcitabilities, asynchrony and perfectionism and am able to support their organic growth toward positive disintegration and re-integration at a higher level. They have the freedom to be exactly who they are in all moments without fear or judgment. Our free to be who we are lifestyle promotes healthy development of our innate super powers with no limit to our freedom. I infuse mindfulness into our daily lives with an emphasis introspection and authenticity. Know who you are and make thoughtful, healthy choices. This is our family motto.
Our lifestyle is incredibly supportive of the divergent souls who inhabit this family. By changing our environment, mindset and way of life, we are able to tap into our powerfully intense energy and hone it to serve our needs. We embrace and celebrate our intensities, acknowledge and appreciate our overexcitabilities and live freely as authentic little kooks who are not afraid to be exactly who we are unapologetically.
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