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Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities or Supersensitivities - a.k.a. my sock seam is killin' me!

If you have AD(H)D or are gifted, chances are you deal with excitabilities every day. I deal with it when I have to ask complete strangers to turn off fans, or when I have to run through the seafood section at Whole Foods like a maniac so I don’t instantly puke from the smell. How about that time I was watching a little dance group perform in a Toys R Us, and I cried because ANYTIME I see someone doing something with passion, I cry. I LOVE this about our kind. Sure, it sounds kind of wacky, but once you see it on paper, it doesn’t look so weird, so read the following article. This list applies to kids and adults; ADHD, Gifted, Aspergers and Autism. P.S. Seeing myself dance makes me want to cry for entirely different reasons. -ST

By Carol Bainbridge, Guide

Does your child complain about the seams in his socks? Put her hands over her ears when the movie starts in the movie theater? Have trouble sitting still? Get moved almost to tears by a piece of music or work of art? These are signs of the kinds of intensities that can be seen in gifted individuals.

Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five of these intensities, which he called “overexcitabilities” or “supersensitivities”: Psychomotor, Sensual, Emotional, Intellectual, and Imaginational.

*Gifted children and adults tend to have more than one of these intensities, although one is usually dominant.


The primary sign of this intensity is a surplus of energy.

  • Rapid speech

  • Impulsive behavior

  • Competitiveness

  • Compulsive talking

  • Compulsive organizing

  • Nervous habits and tics

  • Preference for fast action and sports

  • Physical expression of emotions

  • Sleeplessness


The primary sign of this intensity is a heightened awareness of all five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Children with a dominant sensual overexcitability can get sick from the smell of certain foods or as toddlers will hate to walk on grass in their bare feet. The pleasure they get from the tastes and textures of some foods may cause them to overeat.

  • Appreciation of beauty, whether in writing, music, art or nature. Includes love of objects like jewelry

  • Sensitive to smells, tastes, or textures of foods

  • Sensitivity to pollution

  • Tactile sensitivity (Bothered by feel of some materials on the skin, clothing tags)

  • Craving for pleasure

  • Need or desire for comfort

Intellectual This intensity is the one most recognized in *gifted children. It is characterized by activities of the mind, thought and thinking about thinking. Children who lead with this intensity seem to be thinking all the time and want answers to deep thoughts. Sometimes their need for answers will get them in trouble in school when their questioning of the teacher can look like disrespectful challenging.

  • Deep curiosity

  • Love of knowledge and learning

  • Love of problem solving

  • Avid reading

  • Asking of probing questions

  • Theoretical thinking

  • Analytical thinking

  • Independent thinking

  • Concentration, ability to maintain intellectual effort

Imaginational The primary sign of this intensity is the free play of the imagination. Their vivid imaginations can cause them to visualize the worst possibility in any situation. It can keep them from taking chances or getting involved in new situations.

  • Vivid dreams

  • Fear of the unknown

  • Good sense of humor

  • Magical thinking

  • Love of poetry, music and drama

  • Love of fantasy

  • Daydreaming

  • Imaginary friends

  • Detailed visualization

Emotional The primary sign of this intensity is exceptional emotional sensitivity. Children with a strong emotional overexcitability are sometimes mistakenly believed to have bipolar disorder or other emotional problems and disorders. They are often the children about whom people will say, “He’s too sensitive for his own good.”

  • Extremes of emotion

  • Anxiety

  • Feelings of guilt and sense of responsibility

  • Feelings of inadequacy and inferiority

  • Timidity and shyness

  • Loneliness

  • Concern for others

  • Heightened sense right and wrong, of injustice and hypocrisy

  • Strong memory for feelings

  • Problems adjusting to change

  • Depression

  • Need for security

  • Physical response to emotions (stomach aches caused by anxiety, for example)

Parents can get a better understanding of their *gifted children by matching their child’s behavior with the characteristics of each of these intensities. Telling an emotionally intense child to ignore teasing or not let the teasing bother him is impossible advice for the child to follow. Understanding what lies behind a gifted child’s behavior will help parents better respond to that behavior.

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