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Do you know a child who seems to interpret life more intensely than most kids her age?
- notice more details and nuances in her areas of interest than most adults?
- seem extra sensitive to certain smells or “uncomfortable” clothing, like socks or shirts with tags?
- turn what you’re serving for dinner into inspiration for her latest song (a joyful one if she likes it; a despondent one if she doesn’t)?
These are examples of overexcitabilities (a.k.a. intensities) – and they’re part of everyday life for “gifted” and 2e children. (I call them “kite kids”)
Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski was the first to give this phenomenon a name. When he was studying kids with higher-than-average intellect in the 1960s, he realized that all of them had an unusual level of intensity when it came to their interests and other aspects of everyday life.
Dabrowski concluded that there are five types of intensities, which research has confirmed. Some “kite kids” have all of them; others, experience one or two.
A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children likens these intensities to “the difference between receiving information with rabbit-eared antennae versus a satellite dish.” I love that analogy. It is so true!
Here are brief descriptions of each type of intensity:
Kite kids who are intellectually intense have an insatiable sense of curiosity. They love mental challenges and tend to become laser-focused when a project or topic interests them. These children also are keen observers, constantly taking in – and analyzing – the world around them. Their minds never stop. The downside of this is that they can become impatient if they’re forced to be in situations where they rarely, if ever, learn something new. As adults, we can find another job or select from various break-out sessions at a conference if we want to learn new skills; however, kids with intellectual intensities often don’t have this luxury and can feel trapped if they aren’t regularly challenged.
Kids with this intensity live in a heightened state, when it comes to the five senses. A creatively-gifted child may experience music or art in a deeper and much more fulfilling way than most children – and adults; they feel it in their souls.
On the flip side, sensual intensities can be unpleasant. For example, the seams in most socks may drive a kite kid nuts or she may not be able to stand foods with certain textures. Or, she may be particularly sensitive to smells that most people don’t even notice.
Children with emotional intensity have deep connections to people, places and things. They may worry a lot or show unusually strong levels of empathy for their age.
In addition to this, they can have short fuses. If something makes them angry or someone hurts their feelings, their reactions can seem over the top, especially when they’re no longer toddlers.
Kite kids with intense imaginations have a flair for make-believe and drama. When they’re young, some have imaginary friends. They can easily become lost in their own thoughts and may seem to lack a sense of time. Some even have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, genuinely believing what they say to be true.
Not surprisingly, it can be difficult, at times, to parent or teach a child with such vivid and frequent visualizations. It also can impact their relationships with peers.
To learn more about this type of OE, read Social Considerations of Imaginational Intensity. I wrote it at the request of a concerned parent who contacted me.
Children with this intensity have almost ceaseless energy. As you might expect, this can take the form of fidgetiness, sleeplessness or compulsive talking. It also can manifest itself in ways, ranging from competitiveness and doodling, to tics or compulsive organizing.
These intensities can be positive, too
Parents, educators and clinicians who are familiar with the term “overexcitability” often consider this phenomenon to be negative – partly because of the word “over” in its name. And also due to the undesirable ways in which these mannerisms can reveal themselves.
These intensities can be wonderful too, though – for “kite kids” themselves, and for anyone watching them experience life on such a deep level. As a parent, I find it fascinating.
This bright side of overexcitabilities article on educationaladvacement.org does a wonderful job of explaining this further. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.