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I’m in the process of updating this content & providing more examples. In the meantime, some descriptions will be longer than others. Thanks for your patience as I make these changes.
Do you know a child who seems to interpret life more intensely than most kids her age? Does she:
- 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 twice-exceptional (2e) children.
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 how they experienced (and responded to) their surroundings and everyday input.
Dabrowski concluded that there are five types of intensities, which research has confirmed. Some kite kids, as I call them, have all five overexcitabilities (OEs); others, have just one or two of them.
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’s 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, like puzzles, brainteaser toys & strategy games.
And they become laser-focused when a project or topic interests them. For example, if you give my aspiring engineer something new to build, like a big LEGO set or a TinkerCrate, you won’t see him again until it’s fully assembled, no matter how many pieces there are. (Then, you’ll get a detailed presentation from him, explaining each and every feature, so you can appreciate the new masterpiece as much as he does.)
These kiddos also are keen observers, constantly taking in – and analyzing – the world around them. Their minds never stop. Here are a couple examples of what I mean by this:
And few days after my son’s 8th birthday, he announced from his bedroom that finally lost his front tooth. It had been loose for a while, so as I entered his room, I asked how it came out. I expected to hear a typical explanation.
“All it took was a two-pound push,” he replied instead. I paused, trying to decide if I’d heard him correctly. “Did you just say a two-pound push?” I asked. “Yes, it only took about two pounds of pressure,” he said. “Maybe less,” he added, after thinking about it more.
Another example of kite kids’ constant analysis and putting information in context is from when my son was nine. At a football-playoff party, the sound level in the stadium flashed on the TV screen. He and I were standing with a neighbor when this happened, so he began telling us how it compared to the sound level of fireworks and rockets. Then, he told us the point at which ear damage begins to occur. Our neighbor looked a perplexed.
The downside of intellectual overexcitability is that these kids can become impatient or despondent when they’re in environments where they’re rarely, if ever, challenged or learning something new. In fact, some of these kids even become “gifted underachievers” because of it.
Unlike a student who is a high achiever (but not intellectually “gifted”), the intellectual OE isn’t simply about being good at grasping concepts and memorizing information.
That happens, too, but when it’s true giftedness, (which is a type of neurodiversity) kite kids who have intellectual intensity constantly need new information. They want to understand topics that interest them at both the micro and macro level, and know how everything is connected and influences each other. This strong need drives their curiosity and is the reason they constantly ask questions (when they aren’t getting screen time).
When they go for long periods of time without learning, they start to feel trapped – even hopeless.
I know, the name for this one is weird. What it means, though, is that kids with this intensity live in a heightened state, when it comes to the five senses. My twice-exceptional (2e) daughter, for example, is obsessed with all things soft and plush. So much so that, when she was six years old, she declared that she had “an acute case of the fuzzies.” I can’t make this stuff up. 😂
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. 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. With some kite kids, it’s all of these and more. These sensory-related experiences can even be misinterpreted and contribute to medical misdiagnosis of autism or sensory processing disorder.
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.
Here’s a video (blurred to protect her identity) of my twice-exceptional (2e) daughter’s many impromptu performances. For context, as you watch this, it’s important to know that slurping drives me crazy.
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 (with the help of a gifted and 2e expert) 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.