Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist, explored overexcitabilities as a part of giftedness: intellectual, sensual, emotional, imaginational, and psychomotor.
As a teacher, I often saw these in the kids I taught–the child who can’t learn enough fast enough. The one who can’t handle the breeze from the windows or socks on their feet. The child who never. stops. moving and simply cannot sit still (ADHD is often misdiagnosed in gifted kids because of this one…). The one who tells fantastic stories to go along with games or whatever they’re learning and sees the movie in their head as they read in great detail. And the ones who get called “drama queen” who cries at the drop of a hat, gets angry or frustrated quickly, just can’t seem to get a handle on their feelings, or is anxiety ridden to the point that they can’t do anything. Some years, I had several of each in my classroom.
I learned to make agreements with kids that allowed them to do what they needed to learn. All kids had options for seating…the floor, the couch, tall tables, the counter, short tables, regular tables, different chairs, standing desks, wiggle seats… They had choices and once the novelty of each wore off, they all settled into whatever worked best for them on a given day.
The child who had an endless supply of energy sat at the side or in the rear of the room to let them move and not drive their classmates nuts. I never cared if they needed to stand, hop, pace…if they were participating and working and not bugging anyone else, it was fine. There were times that sitting was the only option, but I tried to make sure that they were able to expel SOME energy beforehand. GoNoodle, though it drove me insane, was a good outlet for many kids–brain breaks are the kid equivalent of AAWs (attitude adjustment walks) for adults. Errand running, like carrying a dictionary to the other end of the school to a teacher who needed it (wink, wink), was also a strategy I used.
The children who preferred a particular kind of pencil over another because of how it felt in their hands had access to them, though mechanical pencils were often temporarily banned for all the lead that ended up on the floor or shared with friends. Options for coloring were always available–some prefer crayons over markers. Types of paper, where they sat, lighting in their workspace, and whether or not they used noise canceling headphones or soft music were options too. I couldn’t fix the seams in their socks, but I was happy to cut a tag out of a t-shirt because they’re just annoying.
The kids who needed to learn everything and went down rabbit holes or needed create and do things differently got the chance to do that…with parameters. It was easier to encourage the use of their intensities than fight them. This made projects and ownership of work a pretty big deal because most, if not all, were able to do what they needed to learn and grow…
Those kids who got labeled “too dramatic” or “too emotional”…those were more complicated. It was one thing for them to sob while they read a book–I do that too. But when they’re little, it’s hard to regulate all the emotions all the time. And oh gosh if one was also an empath…they felt all their own feelings AND everyone else’s… It was simply a matter of talking them through it, honoring the fact that the big emotions were just going to happen and once they’d calmed down a bit we could come up with strategies to name them and work through them so they didn’t take over every time. The kids gradually learned how to articulate the feelings and ask for things like a quick bathroom trip, or a walk to another room, or even just a quiet moment or twelve.
Gifted kids are so often told that they are “too” everything–busy, fanciful, emotional, stubborn or rigid… Really though they aren’t “too” anything. This is a part of who they are. As they grow and learn, they develop ways to use those things as strengths.
The kid who couldn’t sit still does Ninja Warrior competitions and rock climbs and runs cross country. Another found gymnastics and dance…and those are their outlets.
The child who had to know everything about all the things does projects on their own and shares them with the class and others, making their invention something that everyone can take part in. And the ones with incredible imaginations create places and beings that fascinate their peers, drawing them in to their storylines. And often kids with these intensities go on to do lots of different things with their lives because there are SO many things to do when they grow up–why do just one thing forever?
The kid who refused to wear socks and had their shoes off as often as possible because they felt confined learned the beauty of Birkenstocks and lives in them. They wear soft shirts and pants or wear dresses that are flowy. They use music to drown out the noise in their space so they can work and has a nail file nearby to futz with while they’re thinking… Perhaps they become a chef later in life with a focus on creating meals with the RIGHT textures and smells and none of the wrong ones.
And those who feel all the feels…they go on to lots of different things. Writing, being an ear for those who need it, and the arts–because the arts bring joy to others…and makes them think too.
This is living Gifted.
None of these intensities go away, but kids learn (with our help) to direct them into productive work, thinking, and activity, rather than focusing on how different they are from their same age peers who don’t feel the same way. These aren’t things you can lock away in a box until the end of the school day, or work day. Educators and parents need to know how to help kids learn to use these “superpowers” for good as they grow older, and learn to advocate for what they need to help them manage whichever combination of intensities they happen to have–it’s rare to just have one.
These intensities are a part of who our gifted kids are, no different than the color and texture of their hair or the color of their skin. They’re not bad, just different.
Living Gifted is Living Different. And that’s a good thing. It keeps the world interesting.