Tag Archives: OEs

My Child Has Overexcitabilities – Now What?

My Child Has Overexcitabilities - What Now?

If you followed my series on the five types of overexcitability and discovered that your child has OEs, you’re probably asking, “Now what?”

When I first learned about overexcitabilities, my first reaction was a feeling of enormous relief to finally have an explanation for my son’s intense, sensitive behaviour. Next, I wanted to know how I could use this information to help my son be happier and find his place in the world.

Overexcitabilities are one part of a much broader theory of personality development. When we understand their place in this context, we can begin to appreciate the benefits OEs bring. Only then can we can start to deal appropriately with the accompanying challenges.

Finding out about OEs is not like getting a diagnosis: OE s aren’t a disorder, although they’re often mistaken for one.

OEs and Misdiagnosis

When you’ve spent years desperately trying to figure out what’s going on with your intense/sensitive/explosive child, you’ve probably spent a lot of time blaming yourself for his behaviour, and feeling judged by others too.

You’ve tried every parenting technique out there but nothing’s worked: you’re obviously doing something wrong (you think). So you begin trailing round the professionals.

And because OEs can look a lot like psychological disorders, the chances are that before long some well-meaning professional ticks enough boxes to diagnose your child with one. When this happens, among the complex and mixed emotions you feel at this point is relief: it’s not your fault.

I know I felt this way when my son was diagnosed, aged seven, with Sensory Processing Disorder. Finally I was finally able to tell sports coaches, frowning museum curators and friends that Jasper wasn’t deliberately being rude or naughty – his behaviour stemmed from the unreliable way his senses processed information.

In retrospect, I suspect that Jasper’s SPD ‘symptoms’ were actually caused by his psychomotor and sensual OEs, which may explain why the year of therapy he received made no difference to his behaviour. (A fact the occupational therapists explained away by suggesting that my son had ADHD as well!)

I’m not saying that children can’t have OEs as well as a psychological disorder, and if your child’s been diagnosed with one and the treatment is helpful, that’s great. (Whatever works!) But often there is no effective therapy, and the relief a parent feels on receiving a diagnosis quickly turns into helplessness and frustration. Of course, effective treatment is even less likely if the child doesn’t have the disorder to begin with.

Overexcitabilities as a starting point

But when we realise that overexcitabilities are at the root of a child’s behaviour we find ourselves, not trapped inside a labelled box, but at the start of a journey.

Overexcitabilities are a part of the personality theory which was the life’s work of the brilliantly creative and humane psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980).

According to Dabrowski, three factors must be present for advanced personal development:

(1) Innate ability (intelligence, talents, etc)

(2) Overexcitabilities, which provide the drive or energy to move forward

(3) The capacity for self-directed emotional growth.

In other words, OEs are a gift. Yes, our kids’ OEs can bring challenging behaviours that make us wonder, in us our darker moments, how the heck they’re going to cope with adult life. But we need to remember that it is the OEs themselves that will provide our children with the drive and energy to develop into fulfilled, self-actualised adults.

For me, reframing OEs in this way is a powerful place to start when it comes to supporting our children.

Nurturing our children’s capacity for emotional growth

Dabrowski himself believed that all three of the above factors were innate – you’re either born with them or you’re not. But other psychologists believe a person’s capacity for personal growth can be affected by their environment.

My own feeling is that this is very much the case. Someone whose basic needs (for health, shelter, or love for example) aren’t being met won’t have any spare energy to move forward, no matter what their innate potential might have been.

As parents of children with OEs, we can show our kids how to direct their energy towards their self-chosen goals. If we do it well, we’ll send our children into the world equipped to find a way through the frustration, conflict and struggle they’ll experience during their lives and able to use those feelings as opportunities for inner growth and to contribute to the world around them.

How can we support our intense and sensitive children?

Firstly, I believe we need to teach our children that their OEs are an innate and valuable strength, not something to be repressed.

Second, we must show them how to channel the powerful energy that OEs bring (“there is a delicate balance between honouring a feeling and managing its expression” – Daniels & Piechowski, Living With Intensity).

Often as parents of intense, sensitive, hyper-reactive children, all our energy gets spent fire-fighting – dealing with the day-to-day challenges that life with these children throws at us (usually at the same time as managing our own OEs).
We find ourselves desperately reaching out – “How can I stop my child doing …?”,  “Help! My child keeps…”,   “How do you deal with …?” etc. Of course we need this kind of support, and I intend to share tools and resources to help here on this blog.

But much of our stress as parents comes from worrying that there’s something wrong with our children and feeling anxious about their future. If we can keep focused on the positive role OEs can play in helping our kids be their best possible selves, growing towards a great future, we can save ourselves a huge amount of worry – leaving us with more energy to support and nurture these extraordinary young people.

What do you think?

  • What do you think it’s important for kids with OEs to know?
  • Was your child with OEs misdiagnosed?
  • What else would you like to know about OEs?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments, on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page or by email.


There’s a lot more to Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration than I’ve had space to talk about here. I’ll explore other aspects of his theory in a future post. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more, here are a few places to start:


SENG: Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration: Some implications for teachers of gifted students

Bill Tillier: The Theory of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dabrowski

PowerWood: Perspective for the High-Able: Dabrowski

Support for families dealing with overexcitabilities: PowerWood


Living with Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults by James T Webb



How I discovered that OEs aren’t something that needs fixing


How I learned that OEs aren't something that needs fixingOverexcitabilities can look very different from one individual to another, which is why it took me so long to identify them as the reason for my son’s unusual behaviour. I’d seen OEs briefly mentioned, but only connection with giftedness, which isn’t talked about here in the UK. (I can imagine it now, like a scene from a sitcom. My son mid-meltdown in the Harry Potter Experience gift shop, while I explain to frowning onlookers, “It’s because he’s gifted, you know”.)

No one here talks about giftedness, and no one talks about overexcitabilities.

Before I found the one person in Britain who does talk about OEs (she’s Dutch) we’d taken our son to see half a dozen ‘experts’, none of whom could explain his extreme reactions. They mostly agreed, though, that his behaviour needed fixing so he could have a normal life.

Sensitivity and intensity reframed

I knew the PowerWood workshop was going to be different when, within the first half hour, we were looking at photos of people like Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Princess Diana, Alfred Nobel and PewDiePie  (ask your children about the last one).

What did all these people have in common? They didn’t achieve what they did by curing their OEs – they succeeded because of them.

Finally someone was saying something that resonated with my experience. Yes, my son may be challenging at times, but I’ve always known that his intense energy, imagination, curiosity and zest for life could one day take him wherever he wants to go.

Each OE provides the energy or fuel that contributes to the development of a ... young person's talent.

The five types of OE

Our workshop leader Simone de Hoogh went on to talk in detail about the five types of overexcitability – emotional, imaginational, sensual, intellectual and psychomotor. As I listened to the characteristics of each type of OE and the challenges and opportunities related to them, I began to sense a framework within which every single aspect of my intense, sensitive son’s behaviour made perfect sense. The relief was incredible.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring each type of OE and giving a few examples from my family’s experience. I’d love you to join me and share your own stories along the way.

You Know Your Family Has Overexcitabilities When…

You know your family has overexcitabilities when...

1. You let your son leave the table and roll around the floor with the dogs in the middle of dinner because you know he has to get the wiggles out if he’s going to eat his meal.

2. Everyone has their own peculiar relationship with socks. When you’re going for a winter walk you allow an extra 15 minutes for your son to arrange his seams so they don’t rub. You ask your daughter if she’s been wearing odd socks after you find a couple of mismatched ones in the dryer. She’s aghast. “How could anyone cope with uneven pressure on their feet all day?” Meanwhile you stock up on slippers in winter because you can’t go barefoot indoors except on spotless floors in high summer.

3. Your daughter is ecstatic on Friday because she’s found a video that teaches you how to do the splits in a week. After two days’ incessant practice she’s just a few centimetres from the floor. On Monday she’s weeping because  “I’m never going to get it! Why can everyone do the splits except me?”

4. At parties you have to stop yourself blurting out during short silences in the smalltalk, “I always wonder, what do normal people say when there’s a gap in the conversation like this?”

5. Your daughter comes down wearing a slightly-too-small T-shirt you haven’t seen for a while. She explains she felt bad for neglecting it. You understand perfectly – it reminds you of the time you cried as you turned your back on a broken but much-loved suitcase at the rubbish tip.

6. You all love board games but you’ve never managed to finish one as a family.

7. You have conversations like this:

“Jasper, it’s 25 degrees still, do you really need to wear your teddy-bear onesie in bed?”

“I like it because it makes me feel like a computer glitch.”


“Yes. Sometimes when you spawn into a video game it glitches and you get to see the hair from the inside. That’s what it’s like having my onesie hood up.”


8. Empty parks and stretches of beach are an invitation to skip (and you’re in your 40s).

9. You can’t watch reality TV shows because they’re too stressful.  Or the news. Or soap operas.  When you watch TV with your partner you keep earplugs handy, ready to stick in your ears in case someone on screen is mean. (For some reason your husband objects to you pressing the mute button in the middle of a program.)

10. You accidentally put cinnamon in your Hungarian goulash instead of paprika after your 10-year-old decides to alphabetise the spice drawer.  You’d  have noticed your mistake sooner if you hadn’t been engrossed in an audiobook while you cooked.

* * *

Can you relate to any of our overexcitabilities? I’d love to hear your favourite OE stories, if you’d like to leave a comment below or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

Find out if you have OEs

To find out if you or someone in your family has OEs, take the free online OE questionnaire at the PowerWood website. (Results come back by return email.)

What Are Overexcitabiilties?

Overexcitability means 1

Have you ever wondered why you’re sensitive to things that other people just don’t notice? Or why your child has strong reactions to things that other kids seem to take in their stride? Maybe people have always described you as ‘intense’ or told you to ‘toughen up’, or warned you to stop pandering to your child?

If you can relate to any of these questions, you probably have experience of what psychologists call overexcitabilities.

‘Overexcitability’ is a translation of a Polish word meaning ‘superstimulability.’ Leading twentieth century psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski first used the term to describe a tendency to react more easily and in a stronger and more lasting way to stimuli.

Dabrowski suggested that there are five forms of overexcitability (OE): psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional.

Overexcitability is an

Find out if you have overexcitabilities by taking the free online OE questionnaire on the PowerWood website, where you can also find information about the different forms of OE and read stories by individuals and parents who experience with them.

If you’d like to join me on my journey into finding out more about OEs, just put your email address in the box below or above to receive posts straight to your inbox.

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