There are different social and legal definitions of giftedness depending on a given jurisdiction or culture. This page focuses on 1) the academic definition of giftedness known as overexcitability, 2) some of the consequences or impact of overexcitability, and 3) support tips. Overexcitability does not necessarily mean someone is easily excited. It is a translation from polish that refers to the central nervous system. Yes, physical stimulation can be more intense, frequent, and last in terms of duration. However, people with the condition have more experience dealing with high levels of stimulation. This can cause people to underreact in certain situations. It is possible to be physically stimulated and mentally calm. This can make it difficult to accurately interpret their body language.
Giftedness is a somewhat arbitrary label for historical reasons. Giftedness in this context is not always related to IQ scores. IQ tests are useful as a disability diagnosis support tool by professionals, and are rarely appropriate for other purposes. IQ tests can have education and cultural biases. Overexcitability as a form of neurodiversity is not classified as a disability and is not mentioned in many education materials on neurodiversity. Many education and psychology experts are not trained properly in this area. This can make finding appropriate support very difficult, especially in terms of support for education, mental health, and social development. The condition is known as a double edged sword and can have both positive and negative consequences for the individual. People with the condition are predisposed to early moral development so it often results in social good for the community.
The 5 Known Overexcitabilities
There are five categories associated with overexcitability. It is possible to have just one or a combination of these. Individuals can differ in terms of the intensity of their overexcitabilities. It is possible to have giftedness with a disability. This is referred to as 2E or twice exceptional in the literature. This can make diagnosis difficult. People with overexcitability can often learn to hide many of their symptoms. The peripheral symptoms of the overexcitabilities, in some contexts, can be confused with the symptoms of other conditions. The can also lead to misdiagnosis.
People with psychomotor overexcitabillity:
- often enjoy the feeling and flow of movement. This can sometimes lead to a misdiagnosis of ADHD. Sometimes ADHD is supported with cognitive stimulants like ritalin (to stimulate brain areas related to self-control). This is particularly inappriopriate for giftedness as the condition is associated with higher levels of activity in every brain region.
- can have more physical energy, and feel the need for movement.
- may move or speak more quickly when calm, tired, or relaxed. This can be misinterpreted as being in a state of excitement or enthusiasm, especially if the person has a habit of slowing down in public out of consideration for others. Burn out from too much self-control to slow down might actually be tiring in some cases.
People with intellectual overexcitability :
- often engage in metacognition (thinking about thinking)
- can have excellent obsevation skills.
- often have vivid memory recall.
- can often spot patterns that others do not, especially long term patterns. This can enhance their predictive capabilities e.g., someone might notice disturbances in the water and be faster to find good fishing spots.
- can often contemplate and organise ideas or projects on a large scale. This can make their ambitions seem unreasonable to others even though their plans may actually be achievable.
- can often sustain focus for longer periods of times, especially when they've chosen to, or are interested in an area.
- can be naturally good in areas such as research methodology.
- can be naturally curious and enjoy wondering about things.
- can have a diverse range of interests.
- can be keen readers.
- can have excellent long term planning skills. This is a particularly good way to distinguish overexcitability from ADHD.
- often enjoy various forms of novelty.
- often learn things rapidly especially if that learning is self-directed and intrinsically motivated.
- can sometimes spot or create a solution to a problem very quickly.
- can have more counterintuitive ideas
- often enjoy debating different topics or points of view.
People with imaginational overexcitability can:
- be very creative or inventive
- often engage in fantasy
- often enjoy methaphor
- often have intense or vivid dreams. This can also result in intense nightmares as well sometimes. The intensity of dreams can sometimes make it difficult to sleep.
- often have a natural presdisposition to being great writers or artists.
People with emotional overecitability can:
- more intense feelings. People with emotional overexcitability sometimes hide the expression of their feelings.
- sometimes have more physical reactions to emotions such as nervousness or stomaches.
- have an extremely strong sense of fairness and justice.
- have a higher capacity for empathy and compassion. This can result in people being good at social good roles such as counselling.
- be more alert or pay more attention to topics such as death, or depression.
- sometimes have strong attachment to people, places, or things.
- sometimes be more sensitive to any differences between behaviour and moral ideals.
This is characterised by more intense experience with any of the senses e.g., hearing, smell, touch, taste, and sight. People with sensual overexcitability can:
- be more sensitive to textures. This can influence clothing and food preferences. Elasticity, thickness, smoothness, and softness can all have an imapct. Activities like handling paper mache difficult during the creation process (the texture of paper mache paste might feel gross).
- have more intense delight from taste, textures, sounds, smells, and sights. In contrast, this can also result in extreme pain or repulsion when exposed to stimulation that is perceived as unpleasant.
- have a deeper appreciation for music, language, or art.
Much of the literature on this topic focuses on the five senses. However, humans actually have more than 5 senses (up to 33 according to some research). The following are just a few examples. There is vestibular sense (which direction is up, left, or right). These are influenced by receptors in the human ear. There is your temperature sense. There is propriorecption to do with spatial awareness. It involves awareness of where your body parts are in relation to each other e.g., when you move your leg upwards you don't need to see or touch it to know it have moved up. Receptors in your muscles or joints send signals to the brain and are activated when people push or pull an object. If children with overexcitability feel something intensely, they may not necessarily have the vocabularly to articulate what may be a unique experience. Differences in air pressure or weather may be felt more intensely. People with overexcitability may be the first to notice when there will a change in the weather. Heat can cause smells in the environment to spread more adn be more intense.
The Impact of Overexcitabilities
People with overexcitability tend to engage in early moral development. They often get involved in social good causes and social good jobs. Their capacity for empathy can make them excellent mental health practicioners. They can go through some of the stages of development in a different order than others. This can sometimes make it difficult to relate to others in the same age group. One definition of overexcitability is asynchronous development whereby someone can rapidly develop in some areas before others. It is possible for individuals to develop skillsets that go beyond what is typical of their age group. People with overexcitability can sometimes do poorly in primary education, especially males. This can be due to a lack of stimulation/challenge, or motivation. Heightened sensory capabilities mean that some school uniforms can be extremely irritating and make it difficult to focus. Another reason is that individuals with overexcitability may be focused on other matters they perceive as objectively more important or more intellectually engaging e.g., climate change, existential dread. The desire for physical movement may be misinterpreted as boldness by some teachers. The use of physical movement can sometimes actually help an individual focus and perform well on mental tasks. The intensity of experience associated with giftedness can sometimes lead to self-harm both mentally or physically in an effort to relieve tension.
Tips to Help People with Overexcitability
A lot of the literature in this area is focused on children and adults. It's important to be careful not to overgeneralise when reading up on the topic.
- Sometimes someone else trying to speak more quickly can be pleasant for someone with overexcitability. If you're comfortable with someone moving or speaking quickly let them know.
- Imagine if you had to speak this sssssllllloooowwwllllyyy all the time. A fast paced activity can give someone a break from slowing down all the time e.g., like air hockey, or a racing game like crash team racing might be a more pleasant pace.
- someone with overexcitability might like discussing an issue related to philosophy, literature, or mythology.
- Art related activities can be fun whether it's pottery or origami. People with overexcitability often have a natural knack when it comes to areas such as creative writing.
- Cut off labels on clothing that can be irritating. School uniforms can be very uncomfortable and inhibit learning. It is important to try and work with education services to find appropriate solutions. The discomfort associated with uniforms can be extreme in some cases and should not be dismissed or taken lightly as an issue.
- physical activities like dance or Parkour can help burn off excess energy.
- Sometimes listening to more than one song at the same time can be pleasant. Some songs go together better than others.
- Adjust learning strategies. This can sometimes make life easier for a teacher with a more hands off approach. Instead of asking a student to memorise and regurgitate information, it can often help to get someone to use or apply the information in some way. This can be anything from an educative presentation to a craft related project e.g., instead of learning off history notes, maybe use historical facts to inform the creation of a story, or a piece of art.
- sunglasses can provide relief against bright lights. What is bright to someone with overexcitability may not be that bright to someone without the condition.
- Blending or crushing food might help make it more tolerable by reducing repulsion due to texture.
- Exposure to novelty can have great benefit for mental health. You can find some sources of novelty in our art, games, or comedy section.
- People with overexcitability can adapt to a challenge or task. When the task is complete excess mental resources might be built up and require an outlet. It is wise to have a back up activity or mental exercise ready for this eventuality. This can be anything from designing a game to visualising or designing objects.
- Exposure to something with a pleasant smell might help relieve or mask smells from other things in the environment.
- It is documented that coming out as difficult can be more difficult than coming out as gay or lesbian in some contexts. People can sometimes mask their symptoms, and it can be unpleasant to have your minority status dismissed by non-experts, or misinterpreted as a brag due to the social definition of giftedness. The intensity of experience associated with the condition can make people feel shy or experience imposter syndrome especially if they have a history of having their experiences discounted.
- Activities that create a sense of meaning can be beneficial for mental health e.g., volunteering.
- When someone is very developed in certain areas some things will seem obvious. It is however, not obvious that certain things may not be obvious to others, especially people in the same age group. Being aware of this can help prevent miscommunication.
- Be careful with social media groups. Some social media groups are better administered than others. Some recommendations for well run groups are below.
It's also important to make sure someone with overexcitability takes care of themselves when sick or injured. Since they are often used to dealing with intense experience, physical pain or other unpleasant sensations is something they may be inclined to fight through. Example: One of my friends shocked the doctors when she walked about shortly after surgery and didn't take pain relief. Another friend got hit by a car. Despite internal bleeding and confusion he walked home. Doctors should take care not to dismiss someone with overexcitability who visits them. Just because they seem fine doesn't mean they are. Default heartrate and metabolism can sometimes be higher than normal. So a 'normal' or neurotypical levels of energy and function can sometimes indicate someone with overexcitability is unwell.
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