Many gifted children seem to experience the world more intensely than other people. This intensity might manifest itself in various traits a child might exhibit, for example:
- persistently abstract thinking
- constant desire to talk or fidget
- heightened sensitivity to sensory input
- extreme perfectionism
- unusually strong sense of justice
- exceptionally intense emotions
- deep involvement with fictions and fantasies
These and other intensities were categorized by the Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980) as five distinct “overexcitabilities,” familiar today to many educators, psychologists, and parents. In his understanding, gifted individuals may process information, sensory input, and emotions more deeply, “overexciting” the nervous system. He groups the five overexcitabilities as follows: intellectual, psychomotor, sensory, emotional, and imaginational. (Want to read more about examples of each type? See this page reproduced from the SENG ( Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) newsletter.)
These overexcitabilites often result in intense behaviors that can be hard for children and teachers to manage from a social as well as an emotional standpoint--in class, or at home. What should be done when a child cries because paper scraps were recycled instead of saved? Or when a child is inconsolable because eraser marks have “ruined” homework? Or when homework or a test does not get completed because a student is indignant that the question uses incorrect grammar or is phrased ambiguously? Ultimately, parents and teachers can help to channel the energies that spawn such intense reactions into directions that may be more beneficial to the child.
Fortunately, overexcitabilities have many positive manifestations too. For instance, those who are emotionally intense often have a profound empathy and sympathy for other people and for animals. Those who are imaginationally intense are likely to produce powerful creative works. Those who are intellectually intense might be the ones to solve challenging problems that we face as a global community. We can help our children take their own great steps forward when they are ready if we can understand how to help them to manage the challenges the overexcitabilities can pose, as well as to see the rewards they can bring.
To read more about how each of the five overexcitabilities might appear, and some challenges and potential solutions for understanding and dealing with each category in the classroom, see this link to Byrdseed, a blog run by Ian Byrd, a teacher of gifted students in California. Although his blog is written with an audience of fellow educators in mind, this entry in particular speaks to parents and teachers alike. And after all, parents teach their children too! At the end, he helpfully provides links to other references and discussions of Dabrowski's work.