If you live with a gifted child, chances are you know a thing or two about overexcitabilities (OE’s). A Polish psychologist named Kazimierz Dabrowski researched and identified 5 different areas where a child shows major intensity. Gifted children usually exhibit at least a few of these and one is normally dominant. We are no stranger to these overexcitabilities in this house. We see a little bit of all 5 here, but there are 2 that really stand out the most. Here are our experiences with all these overexcitabilities.
Psychomotor overexcitability would be characterized by extreme levels of energy. They are constantly on the move, constantly talking, constantly doing something. They often need less sleep and when they do sleep they don’t sleep restfully. These children are often misdiagnosed as ADHD because of their high levels of energy, but the difference is that they CAN focus when they have the proper amount of brain stimulation. Some common characteristics of a child with psychomotor overexcitabilities are:
- Constant, rapid speech
- Impulsive behaviors
- Constant movement
- Extreme energy
- Compulsive behaviors
- Nervous habits and tics
This is one of the dominant OE’s with Asher. From the moment he wakes up in the morning to the moment he goes to sleep at night, Asher is on the move. From when he comes in our room at 7 in the morning he is talking. And talking. And talking. He gets excited and speaks so fast he forgets to take a breath. He paces back and forth across the room. He jumps up and down. He is very impulsive. When he sees something he wants, he goes for it and is usually so quick about it you don’t have time to tell him to stop. At bedtime, when he is starting to get tired, there is no such thing as starting to wind down and relax to get ready for bed. His tired time is his most intense time. His energy increases, his volume increases, and his motor is just running on overdrive. I usually describe it by saying he is bouncing off the walls. Even laying in bed while reading bedtime stories, he is tossing and turning, getting under his covers, getting back out from under his covers, playing with stuffed animals, playing with his hands, and finding any way he can wiggle his body. Then all of a sudden, he is still and he is out. It’s physically exhausting for us. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t considered ADHD, but then I read about psychomotor OE and realize that’s what we’re dealing with.
I wish this platform allowed me to share videos, because a picture just doesn’t do the job to show an example of psychomotor OE’s (and I do have a great video to share of Asher displaying it), but this picture is the closest I could get.
Intellectual Overexcitability is what you would think of when you imagine a gifted child. It is characterized by the intense need to learn. They are always asking questions, always seeking answers, always thinking about something. Their minds never rest. Some common characteristics of intellectual OE’s are:
- Deep curiosity
- Love of knowledge and learning
- Always reading
- Asks questions constantly
- Theoretical thinking
- Analytical thinking
- Deep concentration
Asher is a child that never really grew out of the “why” stage. For every explanation we give, he wants to know why. He has a deep understanding of the world and how it works for a 4-year-old and that’s because he is always wanting to know more. Some parents of gifted children struggle with deciding if they should tell their child that they are gifted. Asher wanted to know why he was different than others at a very young age. We didn’t hesitate to tell him, but he knows that there is nothing wrong with others and that his brain just works differently than other kids his age. He understands this rather well. He is always wanting to learn more about himself though, as you will see in this picture. He noticed I was reading a book about gifted children and he practically yanked it out of my hand and sat down and started reading it himself.
An imaginational overexcitability is simply what it sounds like. They have intense imaginations that can lead them to a complex make-believe world. This can be a good thing and fun to watch, but it can also work against them when their imaginations can dream up all kinds of bad consequences to every situation. They are constantly asking “What if…” and they can develop some irrational fears of things they are not familiar with. Some characteristics of an imaginational OE are:
- Vivid dreams
- Fear of the unknown
- Appreciation for magic; magical thoughts
- Love of the arts and fantasy
- Sense of humor
- Imaginary friends
- Detailed visualization
This is Asher’s other big one. The child’s imagination is downright amazing. It’s not enough for him to tell me “I’m pretending to work at an auto shop like Daddy does.” He is telling me every little detail about what it looks like there, who works there with him, what kind of cars are in there being worked on, what kind of courtesy cars they offer, what time he comes to work and goes home, the names of the customers that come to have their cars worked on, etc. This is just one example of many imaginary worlds that he lives in. I’d say 90% of his day is spent pretending something, with his imaginary friends. And he doesn’t stop there. It seems his dreams are pretty vivid as well because he will talk in his sleep and act out his dreams. Again, I wish I could post a video of this one, but here’s a picture of him pretending to be an air traffic controller.
These are the kids that have amplified senses. Sometimes they have heightened senses, but sometimes they have a lack of some of the senses. These are the kids that can’t eat certain foods because they don’t like the texture, or they don’t like the feeling of tags on their clothes. They can’t eat lunch with other kids in the cafeteria because the smell of all the foods combined mixed with all the noise makes them feel extremely anxious or even makes them sick. Characteristics include:
- Appreciation for beauty
- Sensitive to smells, tastes, textures of food
- Bothered by the feel of different things on their skin (clothes, grass on bare feet, sand, etc.)
- Craving for pleasure
- Need for comfort
- Sensitivity to pollution
- Bothered by loud noises
Asher’s sensual OE is something I am still trying to understand it’s depth. We know he has issues with textures of food and some foods make him gag, but we are starting to believe that his sense of smell just plain isn’t there. He complains that he can’t smell anything. We have had an intense, overbearing smell around us before and he has been completely oblivious to it. This lack of smell could be what’s causing his aversion to certain foods because it affects his taste as well and he is only left with the textures of foods to help him “taste” them. He also hates getting dirty and sometimes seems bothered by loud noises. (see the main photo at the top of this blog post)
These are your sensitive kiddos. The ones who feel everything more deeply. When they are happy, they are extremely happy. When they are sad, they are extremely sad. When they are mad, they are extremely mad. These children can become quite explosive and have been misdiagnosed bipolar. Traits of this overexcitability are:
- Extremes of emotion
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of inferiority or inadequacy
- Sense of justice
- Need for security
- Sensitivity to change
- Physical response to emotions
This is the one that Asher deals with the least. The only trait he possesses with this one is anxiety, but he does have quite a bit of that. As long as we can remember, he has played with his shirt. He rolls it around in his fingers and ties it in knots down around the bottom of it. At first we thought it was a security thing because he would do it while he took a bottle or a sippy cup of milk. Then it became more constant and his shirts would be a wrinkly, stretched out mess by the end of the day. Then came the nail picking. Then came the worst of all…though this has only happened a couple times. He gets so anxious about the unknown (imaginational OE) that he makes himself physically sick.
For example, we were on vacation in Florida and we were going to surprise him with a day at Disney. We kept it a secret for months. On the day we were going it was rainy in the morning, so we told him we were leaving our condo to go somewhere to look for dolphins. Well, as we got further and further from the coast on our trip inland to Orlando, his intelligence began to tell him we weren’t near the ocean anymore and the ocean is where dolphins live. He then became nervous that he didn’t know where we were going. We hit a huge traffic jam and he began telling us he just wanted to go back to the condo. We reassured him that it’s ok and he would have fun looking for dolphins, it would just take awhile to get there. He wasn’t buying it. He got himself so worked up that he nearly vomited in our car. The only thing that got him to calm down was giving him water and finally spilling the beans that we weren’t going to look for dolphins, but we had a surprise for him and it was something he was going to LOVE and have a ton of fun. By the time we got there and he realized what it was, he was just fine. Whew! He still talks about the time we were in the car and his tummy got yucky. Poor guy!
Living with the 5 overexcitabilities is both a challenge and a gift. There are times that we have to take a deep breath and hold on for the ride. With lots of reminders to ourselves, we are able to remember that these are not things he can control and we have to accept them and not try to change who he is. We as parents have to work toward a way to help him cope when things get to be too much for him. With proper coping skills and acceptance, he is able to thrive and use these OE’s to his advantage.