Autumn is here with cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, and fall festivals. Even though the COVID virus is still here, and we are still dealing with a global pandemic, most school districts are back in session with face-to-face classes; this is another transition in a series of transitions during the pandemic.
Students who are gifted may sometimes have difficulty making transitions, especially in a short amount of time. The transition from various school situations during the pandemic to face-to-face school this fall may have impacted students who are gifted in ways that are difficult to see, or that manifest themselves in other ways. Students may appear overly sensitive, may have heightened anxiety and worry about illness and concern for others, may have an overabundance of energy, may have heightened awareness of their senses, may dwell on the worst thing that may happen, or hyperfocus their thoughts on a particular topic or topics. Many adults may think these are negative responses, and may indicate mental health difficulties; this may be true for some students, but they may also be a normal response by students who are gifted, and who demonstrate what Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski called overexcitabilities. Dabrowski’s work centers on his Theory of Positive Disintegration.
Overexcitabilities are considered to be inborn, and are an intensified response to stimuli. Students with overexcitabilities are often intense, excited, and sensitive. Dabrowski presented five types of overexcitabilities that may be found in some students who are gifted. They include psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional overexcitabilities.
There is research that supports the existence of overexcitabilities, and it can help adults meet the needs of students who are gifted, instead of misdiagnosing a disability such as ADHD when the student appears to be unable to be still. While many view overexcitabilities as negative, many with experience in overexcitabilities view them as high levels of strength or depth in the five areas.
Parents and teachers may observe certain behaviors indicative of overexcitability in their students. These could include hypersensitivity to clothing labels or certain fabrics, an incessant need to move or fidget, an inability to slow down or relax, a tendency to hyper-focus (sometimes viewed as fixating) on a particular topic of interest, or intense worry about crises in their community or around the world. These are only a few possible typical responses of students who are gifted with overexcitabilities that parents and teachers may observe.
The important thing to remember is that students who are gifted often display behaviors that adults misinterpret, including parents and teachers. It is recommended that adults investigate overexcitabilities to learn about them, and to view their students through this lens. Additionally, seeking expertise by someone trained in overexcitabilities is essential to help with students who strongly display these characteristics in order to rule out other possible conditions or causes. The website below for Dr. Linda Silverman is a good place to start.
Overexcitabilities can be complex in students, and not all students who are gifted display them. However, educating yourself on this topic may provide information to help you advocate for your student.
Below are just a few resources available on the Internet about overexcitabilities.
New Insights into Overexcitability
Linda Kreger Silverman, 2020
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration and Giftedness: Overexcitability and Research Findings, Sal Mendaglio, William Tillier
Journal for the Education of the Gifted. Vol. 30, No. 1, 2006, pp. 68–87. Copyright ©2006 Prufrock Press Inc., http://www.prufrock.com
Overexcitabilities and Sensitivities: Implications of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration for Counseling the Gifted, Carrie Lynn Bailey, PDF Download.
Bailey, C. L. (2010). Overexcitabilities and sensitivities: Implications of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration for counseling the gifted. Retrieved from
Overexcitability and the Gifted
Sharon Lind, SENG, 9/14/11
Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children
Carol Bainbridge (2020)
Overexcitabilities and Why They Matter for Gifted Kids
Colleen Kessler, 2018
Gifted Students and Overexcitability
Mikey D. TEACH, 6/17/2018
Overexcitabilities: Windows into the Inner World of the Gifted
Dr. Linda Silverman, 10/26/2016
National Talent Centre of the Netherlands-NTCN
Overexcitabilities and Asynchronous Development in Gifted Kids
Ashley Darr, 9/22/20
Dr. Wanda Routier
Past Board Member, WATG
Ask the Doctor