Overexcitabilities and Gifted Children

The theory of “overexcitabilities” refer to a person’s heightened response to stimuli. This concept has shed some light on the intensity and sensitivity so often displayed by gifted children. (this is further discussed here.)

Kasimierz Dabrowski, the Polish psychiatrist who developed this theory observed that gifted individuals seem excitably in five different areas. These five areas are:

  • Intellectual
  • Imaginational
  • Emotional
  • Sensual
  • Psycho-motor

Some display in all, while others perhaps in only one or two.

While being too sensitive is often perceived as an negative quality, these heightened experiences can also be positive for gifed children. These overexcitabilities are a major source of strength and a cause of substantial stress, personal frustration, or a basis for criticism. We might often find ourselves critizing them in such manners:

  • Do you ever slow down?
  • You worry about everything!
  • Can’t you just stick to one thing?
  • You’re so sensitive and dramatic!
  • You’re so demanding!
  • You’re so driven!
  • Can’t you ever be satisfied?

These behaviours do not disappear with age, gifted individuals merely learn ways to manage as they grow. Let’s now get into details of these five areas of overexcitabilities.

Intellectual over excitability. Curiosity, asking probing questions, concentration, problem-solving, theoretical thinking, all these are signs or manifestations of intellectual overexcitabilities.

Imaginational over excitability. Gifted individuals are drawn to complex imaginative schemes, usually with great drama.

Emotional over excitability. With its extreme and complex emotions and intense feelings, this area is often what parents notice first in their children. They worry excessively about the well-being of others, and heightened concern for the environment around them. They form strong emotional attachments, and are often accused of overreacting.

Sensual over excitability. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and feeling are much more heightened than others. They derive great pleasure from art, music, language and foods.

Psychomotor over excitability. Heightened capacity for being active and energetic.  They are often misdiagnosed as ADHD . Understand teachers may allow children to squeeze a soft tactile ball or other object to accommodate their need for motion. Keep in mind that as adults, we manage our over excitabilities by avoiding certain types of activities or environments, children however do not have these options.

Parts of this article are excerpts from A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children . You may view/purchase it from clicking on the link.

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2 Comments »

  1. […] Overexcitabilities and Gifted Children Common characteristics of […]

  2. […] Both have certain advantages depending upon their task. The characteristics of gifted children and the concept of a preferred learning style have definite implications for families and for school. Another important dimension for understanding gifted children is the concept of “overexcitabilities“. […]


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