Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children

ap17 adThis Sunday , April 17th at 9pm ET, #ohiogtchat will be discussing Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilties (OE). If you are not are not familar with  Dabrowski and the traits of the OE, here is a short background.

Kazimierz Dabrowski was a Polish psychiatrist who created a framework called Theory of Positive Disintegration which is basically that conflict and inner suffering were necessary for advanced development-for movement towards a hierarchy of values based on altruism-for movement from “what is” to “what ought to be.” Dabrowski also observed that not all people move towards an advanced level of development but that innate ability/intelligence combined with overexcitability were predictive of potential for higher-level development. It is important to emphasize that not all gifted or highly gifted individuals have overexcitabilities. However we do find more people with overexcitabilities in the gifted population than in the average population.

There are five areas of overexcitabilities Dabrowski identified.


Psychomotor OE


    • Psychomotor OE is a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system. A child who has this intensity will be very energetic, and have a love of movement for movement’s sake. They have a surplus of energy, and have  rapid speech when talking.
    • When children who are feeling emotional tense may talk impulsively, act impulsively, misbehave and act out, and display nervous habits. At times have a “workaholic” type belief towards work. These children are organized, and can become quite competitive.
    • Some strategies to help these students:
      • Allow time for physical or verbal activities
      • Provide some time for spontaneity, open-ended activities
      • Provide movement and verbal projects in the classroom


Sensual OE


    • Sensual OE is expressed as a heightened experience of sensual pleasure or displeasure through sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
    • These students have a heightened appreciation for music, language, and art. They also like and seek tastes, smells, textures, sounds, and sights.
    • Children with this OE will at times overeat, go on buying sprees, or seek to be the center of attention.
    • Some withdraw from stimulation, such as clothing tags, classroom noise, or from certain smells
    • Some students will get so involved in their love of music or art form that the whole world ceases to exist.
    • Some strategies to help these students:
      • Create an environment that limits offensive stimuli and provides comfort
      • Allow these students the opportunity to be the center of attention periodically in musicals or in drama, or in classroom skits.

Intellectual OE

    • Intellectual OE is demonstrated by the need to seek understanding and truth. These students want to gain more knowledge through analyzing and synthesizing information.
    • These students have very active minds
    • They are curious
    • Avid readers and keen observers
    • These students have the ability to engage prolonged intellectual activities
    • Have a great visual memory
    • These students love theory and problem solving
    • Focus on moral, ethical, and fairness-issues, (some would call these “adult issues”)
    • These students are very independent
    • May appear critical and impatient
    • Some strategies to help these students:
      • Show how to find the answers to questions
      • Provide or suggest ways to help these students to act upon their moral and ethical concerns
      • If a student seems very critical then allow them opportunities to show how their intent may be perceived as cruel or disrespectful

Imaginational OE

    • Imaginational OE is displayed through heightened imagination with a rich association of images and impressions
    • They have a frequent use of metaphor and image
    • These students are use invention and fantasy, and have detailed visualization
    • Have elaborate dreams
    • Often mix truth and fiction
    • Create fictional worlds
    • Have imaginary friends
    • Have a hard time functioning in a classroom where creativity is second to academic curriculum
    • Students will write stories and draw instead of participating in class discussions
    • Strategies to help these students:
      • Help students to differentiate real and fictional world through journaling
      • Help students use their imagination to function in the real world (as an example allow students to organize a notebook based on their own organization system.)

Emotional OE

    • This OE is most often identified by parents. Students with this OE have intense feelings, extreme range of emotion, and can be a very affectionate.
    • These students can relate to others feelings
    • Known to have physical manifestations to responses like stomach aches, concerns for death, and often battle depression.
    • These students have been known to have deep relationships, have strong emotional attachments to places, people, and things.
    • Show compassion, empathy, and sensitivity in relationships.
    • These students are known be “over reactive” at times.
    • Their compassion and concern for others often gets into the way of daily tasks.
    • Some strategies to help these students:
      • Teachers should accept all feelings regardless of the intensity.
      • Teach students with this OE to prepare for physical and emotional responses.
      • Help students find the warning signs of their emotional stressors such as headaches and stomachaches.

As you read through the list, can you see some of your students fitting some of the characteristics? Do you get a clearer idea of why your student(s) may behave the way they do? We would love to hear some of your experiences with with gifted children who show OE behaviors. Join in the chat on Sunday April 17th. Also, leave a comment, and let me know how you help your gifted children who show some OE signs in your classroom.

A few reources for further study:







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