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Overexcitability. Is it a Thing?

By Dr. Patty Williams on November 12, 2018

BISN founder and president Dr. Patty Williams is a trauma therapist who specializes in EMDR, ND-Affirmative DBT, and IFS modalities. Through Bright Insight Support Network, she works to counsel, coach, and advocate for gifted, twice-exceptional, and neurodivergent persons, along with other marginalized populations.

Overexcitability. Is It A Thing?

Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980), a Polish psychologist, identified five innate intensities or "overexcitabilities" (OEs) that are often displayed by gifted children. These intensities include psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational types. And while one of these OEs may be dominant, they are often combined to form a perfect picture (or storm) of what makes gifted children so unique.

It was identified recently, at Bright Insight’s November 2018 BITT, that these labels can be misleading. Intellectual overexcitability, however, while sometimes strange (the kid who knows the scientific name for every type of meteorite), can be more socially acceptable.

Many do not like the label of overexcitability or even intensity, because of the attached negative connotation.

When a child breaks down in tears because she cannot get a hair bow strait above her ponytail (emotional and sensual OE), saying this is due to an overexcitability may cause us to also say she is overly sensitive or a picky perfectionist.

When a young man will not stop tapping his foot in class and makes airplane noises (psychomotor and imaginational OEs), saying this is due to overexcitability may cause us to also say he is hyperactive, distracting, and lacks self-control.

Even titling these as super-sensitivities or intensities can be misleading, as it suggests these children are overly sensitive or intense. Granted, gifted individuals may be just that, but how does the world interpret this?

Maybe it is time to reframe. Maybe not.

Instead of overexcitability, should we call it elevated ability or even intrinsic asynchronicity, as suggested by Maggie Pinney?

What if that little girl with the bow had an elevated ability to sense a lack of balance and a profound aesthetic awareness that causes her to struggle with frustration tolerance?

What if that young man was using his intrinsic pull toward movement, vocalization, and interest in airplanes to calm anxiety and focus, in place of otherwise absent skills?

I would say these children are in need of support and compassion, just like any human being.

What are your thoughts? Is it time to reframe OEs? Do you have a more positive reframe? Or do we simply need to accept that "over" or more is not bad?


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