When my son was born we treated ourselves to a lovely new play arch. I had fond visions of my baby contentedly engaging with the arch as I played with his sister nearby. But my newborn son had other ideas.
Within weeks Jasper had rolled onto his tummy and was trying to air-swim his way across the room. He literally turned his back on the toy I’d provided, in search of what he wanted to explore. He hasn’t stopped moving since.
When he was two, Jasper’s ‘afternoon nap’ meant lying on his bed, legs kicking against the wall, happily chattering and singing to himself for an hour. I didn’t mind as long as I had time to recharge, ready for another afternoon with my busy little boy.
Jasper has psychomotor overexcitability – an abundance of energy (or an inability to keep still, depending how you look at it. We prefer the former ;-)).
Here are 7 signs your child might have psychomotor overexcitability. Remember that even if your child only has one of these behaviours, he might still have psychomotor OE – it’s more a case of degree than number.
1. He’s always in motion
Whether he’s gesticulating wildly as he tells you about his latest Minecraft creation, standing up at the table as he eats his dinner or rebounding against your bed when he comes into your room at 10:30pm to share an idea that can’t wait until morning – this child is never still.
Jasper, now ten, has two bins in his bedroom. It’s not that he makes a lot of rubbish, it’s just that he can’t keep his feet still and I got tired of picking pencil sharpenings out of the carpet. Now as he sits at his desk Jasper kicks an empty bin around to his heart’s content, and throws his trash in a second bin a few feet away. The wall under his desk is a bit scuffed, but that’s the kind of compromise you get used to when you have a child with psychomotor overexcitability.
2. She talks quickly and all the time
And when she gets excited or overwhelmed, both speed and volume increase even more. Everyone in our family speaks quickly. When Cordie and I get together with my aunt and her daughters I find it miraculous how we seem to all speak at once yet everyone follows what everyone else is saying perfectly. To us it doesn’t feel like we speak quickly, but that other people speak slowly. Thank goodness for the triple speed button on Audible.
3.He’s always singing, often his own made-up tunes
I love overhearing Jasper’s joyful voice when he’s in the bath or playing with his dinosaurs. If he’s had a meltdown, I smile with relief when I hear him humming to himself a little while later – a sure sign he’s refound his equilibrium.
4. She’s a prolific art and crafter
When she was at pre-school, Cordie would bring home so many paintings that I used to wonder how the nursery could afford the paper. Then one day a teacher mentioned that for every painting the other children made, Cordie would make ten. Now twelve-years-old, Cordie still paints, draws, makes popsicle stick houses and spray painted T-shirts and – her latest passion – intricately paints her nails with a different design every day.
5. He’s extremely competitive
In my post You Know Your Family Has Overexcitabilities When… I mentioned that although everyone in my family loves board games, we rarely manage to finish one.
I’ve always encouraged my kids to value participation and enjoyment over beating other people, so before I learned about OEs I used to wonder how on earth I’d created such a competitive child. I was almost relieved to discover that competitiveness is a common aspect of psychomotor OE. Now, instead of blaming myself, I can focus my energy on helping Jasper manage his reactions.
One of the great OE ironies is that kids with psychomotor overexcitability find it so difficult to take part in group sports. It takes a lot of parental commitment and creativity to find outlets for all that energy!
6. You know he’s very bright, but his teachers may not agree
According to psychologist and OE expert Susan Daniels, psychomotor OE is significantly correlated with high intelligence. Unfortunately, a child who’s not challenged in school and can’t keep still or quiet when he’s bored is more likely to be seen as disruptive and annoying than to be placed in the gifted class. So instead of being given more appropriate projects and the freedom to approach them in whatever way inspires him, this child is at best sidelined and at worst misdiagnosed, which brings me onto …
7. Someone’s suggested he has ADHD
When you put a bright child with heaps of energy in an under-stimulating environment he’ll often fidget, interrupt and fail to do tasks. Even when he’s highly engaged, a child with overexcitabilities might not be able to stop himself blurting out questions and answers. While it is of course possible to have both psychomotor OEs and ADHD, experts suspect that the latter is widely misdiagnosed in children with OEs.
When Jasper was eight a senior occupational therapist, observing his meltdowns on the football field, suggested that we put him on ADHD medication so we didn’t “miss the narrow window when he can learn social skills”. But I’d seen my son focus for hours building giant Lego structures or playing with his toy dragons, and I knew how calm and polite he could be in the right environment. None of those behaviours were consistent with what I knew about ADHD.
Of course it’s my long term goal to help Jasper manage his emotions in any environment he finds himself in, but drugging him with medication developed to treat a disorder he doesn’t have probably won’t help us achieve it.
Psychomotor Overexcitability – Further Resources
Although I’m a qualified therapist and coach, my knowledge of overexcitabilities comes mainly from personal experience i.e. observing my own family and speaking with other families I’ve met through PowerWood (the UK’s largest organisation supporting families dealing with OE.)
Here are a few places where you can find more information about psychomotor OE and the other overexcitabilities:
PowerWood – Psychomotor OEs
Over to you
- Can you think of anything I’ve missed?
- What does psychomotor overexcitability look like in your family?
- Can you recommend any other resources?
- What else would you like to know about psychomotor OE? Here are some ideas I’ve had for future posts:
- What do you do when your child has psychomotor OE and can’t do group sports?
- How to help your child learn when he can’t keep still.
My aim in writing this series on the five types of overexcitability is to help you recognise whether overexcitabilities are present in your family. I spent years doubting myself as I searched for the best way to parent my two non-average children, all the while completely in the dark about what I was dealing with. Discovering OEs was like being handed the missing instruction manual.
If you recognise OEs in yourself or your child, I hope you’ll stick around to share my journey of discovery into how to enjoy the many positives OEs can bring while learning to manage the accompanying challenges.
Next in this series I’ll be looking at sensual OE.
See also my other posts in the series:
I’m appreciatively linking up at #coolmumclub.