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Living With Intensity – Overexcitabilities in Profoundly Gifted Children

Gifted Testing and Identification

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Dr. Susan Daniels. She began the seminar by addressing the complex nature of the gifted child and provided the Columbus Group (1991) definition as a starting place for integrating the social and emotional qualities of profoundly gifted children with our knowledge of their intellectual capacities

Author: Daniels, S.
Organization: Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Year: 2011

This article is based on a Young Scholar parent seminar conducted in August, 2011. The session began by addressing the complex nature of the gifted child and provided the Columbus Group (1991) definition as a starting place for integrating the social and emotional qualities of profoundly gifted children with our knowledge of their intellectual capacities, as follows:

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.

We then went on to discuss the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski who was a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist who studied the development of gifted, artistic, creative and talented children, adolescents and adults. His theory of development – The Theory of Positive Disintegration – addresses the intensity and sensitivity of gifted individuals throughout the lifespan. Dabrowski’s concept of development, in contrast to others, does not follow a pre-determined path or course, but follows the unique personality development of the individual.

One significant component of Dabrowski’s theory is the concept of overexcitabilities (OEs). Dabrowski observed heightened sensitivity and intensity in the gifted in the following five areas:

  • Psychomotor – surplus of energy, active, talkative, restless.
  • Sensual – enhanced refinement and aliveness of sensual experience.
  • Intellectual – questioning, discovery, love of ideas, thirst for knowledge, search for truth.
  • Imaginational – vividness of imagery, richness of associations, fantasy, dreams, preference for the unusual and unique.
  • Emotional – great depth and complexity of emotional life, wide range of feelings, compassion and self-examination.

The most useful recommendation that I can share regarding an overexcitable nature is to discuss the OEs with your profoundly gifted child and discuss the advantages that these OEs confer. For example: “You have such great energy. You are able to accomplish a lot!” “You are so aware of sights and sounds and textures. This gives you a great aesthetic appreciation.” “Your imagination provides the fuel for so many creative things you do!”

Certainly, being intense and sensitive brings with it certain life challenges too. On that note, I have a recommendation for those seeking more information. The book I co-edited with Dr. Michael Piechowski, who translated many of Dabrowski’s books and papers from the Polish to English, Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents and Adults provides a solid grounding in Dabrowski’s theory along with many teaching, counseling, and parenting strategies and approaches for better understanding and supporting the sensitivity and intensity of gifted children and adolescents.

Susan Daniels, Ph.D. is co-founder and educational director of the Summit Center for the Gifted at California State University – San Bernardino.

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit


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