Updated: Sep 22, 2020

"Chaos often breeds life when order breeds habit,” Henry Adams.

(re-print from 2011)

I remember starting this path to understanding gifted by using the search term “gifted” in the professional psycho social literature databases, finding only a few resources. For some reason (perhaps human error) the search engines that I used, like Ovid, PsychInfo and PubMed, did not produce many articles. This lack of information from my trusted sources was puzzling. I was thrust into a bit of chaos. My search for knowledge led me to reach out to the community through the Illinois Association for Gifted Children. I met some amazing people (Michele Kane, Sally Walker), who steered me in a direction that breathed new life into my search and fed my knowledge.

I found out that there are several journals and printing companies dedicated to gifted and gifted research; you just need to know where to look. And if you are still looking, there are a few websites that provide a comprehensive list with synopses of such resources.

I consider myself lucky in that the first book that I began to read was Living with Intensity by Daniels and Piechowski. What a comprehensive and heartfelt book. I remember feeling a connection with the book, thinking… at last! This makes sense! This describes my kid, my husband.... what I’ve experienced! Where have you been knowledge? And I wept. Neuropsychology master degree, years working in the field, and all along there were still questions. There were books, research and lots information, and indeed, gifted was a population of people….and I had somewhere to go to find answers to these questions. My research bone tingled and I became a student seeking out resources, professional organizations and trainings wherever I could find them.

Undoubtedly, if you are reading about gifted, you will come across overexcitabilities. Overexcita…what? Is that a real word? Well, the simple answer is yes, yes it is. It was coined by Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980), a psychiatrist who is often called the godfather of intellectual gifted research, but more on him and his Theory of Positive Disintigration later in another post (both deserve an entire write up).

Overexcitability means “superstimulatability” such that “persons may require less stimulation to produce a response, as well as stronger and more lasting reactions to stimuli,” (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009, p. 8-9). Translation: we are talking about nerve impulses in our bodies and brains and are going back to Psychology 101 (think about Behaviorism). So, a smaller stimulus in the environment can cause a reaction in someone where it may not cause a reaction in someone else. And, that reaction may look bigger than expected or last longer than expected.

Overexcitabilities are not only sensations, but perceptions of sensations and innate reactions. They are “a temperamental disposition toward a class of stimuli” (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009, p. 8-9) resulting in intense sensations and internal perceptions (heightened stimuli processing and perception) which have “a more complex and more richly textured quality,” than the norm (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009, p. 9). Translation: those who possess overexcitabilities, sense, perceive and react differently than others. The sensations, perceptions and reactions are more complex and intense, and these sensations, perceptions and reactions are innate (automatic from birth).

Wow, pretty incredible hypotheses from Dr. Dabrowski, right? What is amazing to me, is that, there is neural research that backs his hypotheses (Haier & Jung, 2008; Jin, Kim, Park, & Lee, 2007; Kalbfleisch, 2008). Though we have to place disclaimers on this research as neuroscience is just beginning to develop widely used tools that can help us understand neural functioning, the implications are remarkable and we can explore more about this research in a later post.

So….what does this all mean….how does this look in the real world (not the theoretical or neural world)?

There are 5 ways in which these overexcitabilities are behaviorally displayed: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009; Silverman, 1993; Webb et al., 2005). Psychomotor means a surplus of energy. Sensual means heightened awareness of the five senses. Imaginational means….well vivid imaginations in thought or act. Intellectual means cognition and thought (those IQ tests you hear about). And last, but often most notable, emotional means sensitive and intense emotions. Gifted children more often display behaviors across several of the categories and some suggest that the higher the level of giftedness, the more intense and/or more behavioral displays of overexcitabilities (Silverman, 1993 & Ruf 2009).

Since 2012 I’ve been working with gifted children, adolescents, adults and families, sharing what I know. Supporting and yes, counseling and teaching. If you have any questions, please feel free to join the blog and post questions in the comment section. I will do my best to answer any question. And if I can’t answer your question, I will do my best to refer you to a resource that might be helpful.

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Daniels, S., & Piechowski, M. M. (2009). Living with Intensity. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, Inc.

Haier, R. J., & Jung, R. E. (2008). Brain imaging studies of intelligence and creativity: what is the picture for education? Roeper Review, 30(3).

Jin, S. H., Kim, S. Y., Park, K. H., & Lee, K. J. (2007). Differences in EEG between gifted and average students: neural complexity and functional cluster analysis. International Journal of Neuroscience, 117(8), 1167-1184.

Kalbfleisch, M. L. (2008). Getting to the heart of the brain: using cognitive neuroscience to explore the nature of human ability to performance. Roeper Review, 30(3).

Ruf, D. L. (2009). 5 Levels of Gifted School Issues and Educational Options. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, Inc.

Silverman, L. K. (Ed.). (1993). Counseling the Gifted and Talented. Denver, CO: Love Publishing Company.

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005). Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press, Inc.

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