The room is full of parents of gifted children. The presenter mentions having to cut the tags out of his kids’ clothing. The room is filled with quiet chuckles. The presenter quotes his child, “Daddy, I don’t like the sound of the lights. Daddy, this paper smells like noodles.”
The room erupts in laughter.
Sound familiar? It does to parents of gifted kids, who are more likely to experience what psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski called Overexcitabilities (OE).
“Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience.” (Susan Lind, SENG Newsletter. 2001, 1(1) 3-6)
Dabrowski categorized five OEs: (definitions adapted from Living with Intensity, Daniels, Piechowski)
- Psychomotor, surplus of energy
rapid speech, marked excitation, intense physical activity, pressure for action, marked competitiveness
- Sensual, enhanced sensory and aesthetic pleasure
seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing, delight in beautiful objects, sounds of words, music, form, color balance
- Intellectual, intensified activity of the mind
curiosity, concentration, capacity for sustained intellectual effort, avid reading, keen observation, detailed visual recall, detailed planning
- Imaginational, free play of the imagination
frequent use of image and metaphor, facility for invention and fantasy, facility for detailed visualization, poetic and dramatic perception, animistic and magical thinking
- Emotional, feelings and emotions intensified
positive feelings, negative feelings, extremes of emotion, complex emotions and feelings, identification with others’ feelings, awareness of a whole range of feelings
Although OEs are found in the general public, they tend to concentrate in children with Intellectual Overexcitability, leading to a high probability of intense family life, school adjustment problems, and misdiagnosis by mental health professionals not familiar with OEs in gifted children.
What can a parent do about OEs? First, experts in gifted children suggest that parents familiarize themselves with OEs, and watch for them in both their children and themselves. Understanding OEs and their positive effects in gifted people can help overcome the difficulties in family life that OEs can cause.
Second, experts recommend that whenever possible, parents seek help from professionals educated in OEs and the gifted population. Professionals not educated in OEs will be more likely to see the intensity of a gifted child as pathology rather than a path toward growth and achievement.
Third, like the speaker above, parents can help their children and themselves by relaxing and accepting that OEs are part of the package that gifted children come in.
Writing with humor of her life as a gifted child, Helene Grimaud captures the frustrations of the parent: “After Uncontrollable, there came quite often Unsatisfied. Then Unmanageable. Or Impossible. Undisciplined. Insatiable. Insubordinate…. Unadaptable. Unpredictable.”
It’s a list that parents of intense children know well.
For more information: Read a review of Living with Intensity. Visit Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted.