Using Overexcitabilities As An Excuse


There’s an article circling around most of the gifted groups I’m in at the moment questioning the “strong ideology built up around this notion” of overexcitabilities.  Basically, calling out overexcitabilities as a popular idea with little science to back it up.  Want to read the whole article?  Go here.

It’s an interesting article.  And it set my red flags off.  It’s written by a doctor – psychologist – who works with gifted students, so it has a thick veneer of respectability and authority.   It’s a bit of a hard read – text heavy, with lots of information.  It’s serious, earnest, and critical of the gifted establishment for swallowing the idea of overexcitabilities unquestioningly.

You might be asking “wait, what are overexcitabilities?”  They’re 5 different categories of specific intensities often found in the gifted population.   Go read this and this and this if you have a free night to spend reading!


Let me get this out-of-the-way first

Here’s the thing.  I KNOW overexcitabilities are real.  I live with them.  My kids live with them (and we all deal with that.) But anecdotal evidence isn’t scientific and doesn’t make a great response to articles.  So I spent part of my night wracking my brain with studies trying to understand what the Theory of Positive Integration really is and whether overexcitabilities have more studies about them than the ones mentioned in the article.


What did I learn?

They’re real.  There’s not enough information about them, of course, but they’re real.  And boy, are we gifted folks a neurotic bunch of people!  According to this study, gifted and highly gifted individuals are more likely to deal with neurological, physiological, and psychological disorders than the average population.  Our systems are on high alert with sometimes negative consequences, and overexcitabilities are just one component of that.

Want my reading list for the night?  Proof for OEs lies here beyond a pay wall, and there’s an interesting study done on the use of the ElemenOE Checklist for identifying giftedness.  Plus Linda Silverman’s article on OEs, My Little Poppies’ super-in-depth article explaining the Theory of Positive Disintegration in layman’s terms, and an interesting breakdown of the Theory in precise terms found here.  And this study already linked that looks at how our hyper brains affect our physical and emotional bodies.

With that out-of-the-way, here’s the critical point

The author of the original article that set my gears turning made a valuable point: that often parents will blame overexcitabilities as an unalterable force that can’t be changed.  The one thing my night of reading left me with was how much that conflicts with Dabrowski’s original Theory.  Dabrowski viewed overexcitabilities as a way to explain behaviors and characteristics – not excuse them.  In fact, Dabrowski’s approach to overexcitabilities was growth-oriented – how can we help this individual grow and overcome their challenges?


We can’t shrug and say “it’s kiddo’s overexcitabilities” and not push them to do better.  To learn to cope – to learn to overcome their challenges.  The Theory of Positive Disintegration can help us understand our kids better, but it shouldn’t excuse bad behavior.  Gifted kids are still kids, and they still need guidance and support to learn how to be a responsible human.

The original article made another point that I’ve harped on for a while: don’t be blinded to true disorders by writing them off as overexcitabilities.  If the behavior or challenge is significantly affecting the child’s life, it’s time to go talk to a professional.   Labeling true problems as overexcitabilities means our kids don’t get the help they need.  That’s a serious, life-altering issue, and one I see often in the gifted groups that I’m part of.



Twice Exceptional

In the case of 2e, this is even more pronounced.  I know my kid is 2e and we have a laundry list of diagnoses to prove it.  What I don’t always know is how much of our issues is giftedness, and how much is a challenge presented by the “e” part of things?  Does kiddo truly have ADHD?  His specialist waffles, and tells me that it doesn’t truly fit the ADHD profile.  But it responds to ADHD methods and looks a lot like ADHD, so we’re calling it that for the time being.

The flip side of ignoring a diagnosis by labeling it as overexcitabilities is mislabeling OEs as a diagnosis.  That’s equally harmful, especially if there’s medication involved.  I’m all for medication if it’s helpful and warranted.  It’s up to the family and their medical professional to determine if medication is needed.  I have a thyroid illness – does everyone who acts tired need thyroid meds?  Nope.  So they shouldn’t use thyroid medications unless they’ve been accurately diagnosed, because it can cause some serious harm.


This is personal

Our family lives this, so I have a unique viewpoint (ok, maybe not so unique, but it’s all mine!)  My oldest son is twice exceptional, and while he has OEs the exceptional bits are what usually cause the problems.  I can blame my own OEs for hating mushrooms (they squeak on my teeth!) or not liking long-sleeved shirts, but that’s fairly minor.  I can’t blame my OEs for things like anxiety and depression.  It’s important to know where to draw the line, because everything past that line is a genuine medical diagnosis with specific needs and coping skills.   And yes, sometimes medication requirements.


I think I basically just agreed with the original article with the caveat that I think science backs up the concept of OEs.  Long-winded way to say it – sorry about that!





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