Intensity as the Defining Characteristic of Giftedness

Below is a collection of the papers and articles referenced during a #gtie chat. A tidied up version of the chat follows.


Kazimierz Dabrowski was a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist and physician. He is renowned in gifted circles for his explanation of the Over-Excitabilities (OE’s) and his Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD). His work provides the foundation for much of gifted psychology.

Dabrowski’s Over-excitabilities: A Layman’s Explanation Stephanie S. Tolan

Overexcitability and the Gifted Sharon Lind

Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities or Supersensitivities in Gifted Children Carol Bainbridge

Characteristics Scales – Gifted Learners Waterloo Region District School Board

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration; Some implications for teachers of gifted students Sal Mendaglio

Intense Behaviors of the Gifted: Possible Roadblocks to Academic Achievement Mary Christiansen

When Your Child’s Exceptionality is Emotional: Looking Beyond Psychiatric Diagnosis Barbara Probst

Gifted children: Emotionally immature or emotionally intense? Leslie Sword

Talented Children and Adults: Their Development and Education Jane Piirto

Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children James T Webb

Betts’ and Neihart’s Profiles of the Gifted and Talented (Revised 2010)

What is Giftedness? Linda Silverman

Fostering adult giftedness: Acknowledging and addressing affective needs of gifted adults Sharon Lind


Q1. Does the gifted community ‘adopt’ Dabrowski because it is convenient or are OEs observable?

@Begabungs: A1) Good question!

@Peter_Lydon: I know! ; )

@Frazzlld: OE’s are clearly observable in many students. But I wonder how exclusive they are to gifted ones?

@minka_dumont: The OE are SO observable! Interestingly enough – talking about OE in my classes, the students recognize them too!

@minka_dumont: […] But I wonder how exclusive they are to gifted? <– indeed, dont think they are exclusive.

@peter_lydon: One of the articles suggests that 3 OE’s are needed before giftedness can be deduced.

@Seesee96: What is an OE?

@Frazzlld: An Over-Excitability, as described by Kamierz Dabrowski.

@sboswellhyde: A1: Gifted and Talented (G&T) is defined as “special needs” here. Thus, OE is part of training for teachers;  I agree with @Frazzlld that many students exhibit them.

@peter_lydon: That’s impressive – most Irish teachers (all? except..) have never heard of Dabrowski.

@ffarry1: I’m afraid I fall in to the “Most” category too, Peter – well until tonight anyway 🙂 Interesting reading.

@peter_lydon: You are here! ‘Most’ is not | 2 down, 69,998 to go!

@peter_lydon: The last paragraph in “Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration: Some implications for teachers of gifted students” is particularly interesting.

@Frazzlld: Indeed it is!

@peter_lydon: Clearly, TPD is not a theory of giftedness nor a prescription for teaching gifted children.

@Frazzlld: TPD is not about academic education but about self-actualisation and maybe equally important?

@peter_lydon: According to this, Dabrowski rejected Maslow’s Self-actualising concept! But then Maslow’s hierarchy is not a theory of personality – but one of motivation.

@Frazzlld: lol! Oh, well!

@Begabungs: I think Dabrowski’s Theory could help us to understand gifted kids. It is useful for teachers as well.

@peter_lydon: I agree – it’s a theory of personality rather than of giftedness – still important.

@Begabungs: Yes!

Q2. So, if OEs are observable – what does this look like to a teacher?

@Frazzlld: Sometimes, a difficult kid, I would imagine.

@Frazzlld: Here’s another description of OE’s and Gifted: Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities or Supersensitivities in Gifted Children

@minka_dumont: Give this to teachers: Characteristics Scales – Gifted Learners. I use it in my teacher training and it helps.

@sboswellhyde: Mega-tool, Minka!

@minka_dumont: Yes isn’t it? I like the descriptions rather than a stupid 5 point scale!

@celinabrennan: Fostering adult giftedness: Acknowledging and addressing affective needs of gifted adults ❤this!

@minka_dumont: @DouglasEby is the guy to follow on this subject, I think.

@sboswellhyde: A2: A fantastic opportunity for catering for needs of individuals! Lively classes/ discussions & urgency to foster acceptance.

@Begabungs: To support gifted kids we need more than theories, we need best practice experiences in this area as well.

Q2.5: Can intensities be mistaken by a teacher (or a parent) for something else?

@Frazzlld: Yes, ADHD for a start. Also cheeky, fussy, over-indulged, pain in the a**.

@minka_dumont: YES! Immaturity, ADHD, Aspergers, I can go on and on. (Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children by James T Webb)

@peter_lydon: Can an intense child look unresponsive; threatening; in fear?

@minka_dumont: When Your Child’s Exceptionality is Emotional: Looking Beyond Psychiatric Diagnosis

@peter_lydon: I saw a tweet today that said the new DSM V has removed Aspergers!!! #notsureiftrue

@Frazzlld: Yes, it seems Aspergers has gone in DSM-5.

Q3. Could OE’s explain to teachers some of the social difficulties experienced by gifted children?

@celinabrennan: Absolutely!

@Frazzlld: Absolutely!

@peter_lydon: So it is vital then that teachers know about Dabrowskis TPD to understand all kids, including G&T’s.

@celinabrennan: Yes, it’s the significant difference between understanding and assuming.

@sboswellhyde: Yes, sometimes teachers see behaviour clash/ power struggle & respond to that gauntlet (becomes difficult to change view).

@minka_dumont: My experience is, when training Teachers  in OE, they recognize behaviour – ‘see’ children…that leads to better understanding.

@Frazzlld: Not sure they need to understand Dabrowski’s TPD as much as the OE’s. Related but different.

@peter_lydon: They go hand-in-hand, #methinks.

@minka_dumont: I use OE and TPD ‘combined’ with the profiles of Betts and Neihart for identification.

@peter_lydon: Teacher training courses here have an applied psychology component but it seems there is no practical observation of it.

@Frazzlld: How many plain psychology courses mention it? Never mind teacher training ones.

@peter_lydon: Presumably, teachers can be a victim of their own OE’s.

@ffarry1: Do any of the teacher training colleges even mention it, or the teaching of gifted children??

@Frazzlld: I think not.

@peter_lydon: Nope, but kudos to #NUIM PGDE for whom I gave a lecture last year on G&T children

@peter_lydon: The standard introductory text gives NO mention of it.

@begabungs: A3) Gifted kids have no social problem by themselves. Society has a lack of tolerance to accept them… Thinking out of the box again.

@minka_dumont: I agree!

@peter_lydon: I agree. Sadly, we have to look through the prism of the norm and leverage change that way.

@Frazzlld:  I know what you mean, but I think some GT kids do have genuine social issues that they can be helped with.

@celinabrennan: My Masters program was with an emphasis on GT; but not my undergrad program. It changed my philosophy/practice deeply.

@Begabungs: To support gifted students, we need more than theories. We need applied best practice (community of practice?)

@sboswellyde: Spot on!

@Begabungs: The system is about copy & paste, but as soon as someone has new ideas to change something, everyone plays crazy to accept it.

@peter_lydon@ Or reject it ( TPD kicking in there!)

Q4. Explain OE in one sentence.

@Begabungs: A4) To be like a rose but learning in a system just for cactus 🙁

@ffarry1: Love it!

@minka_dumont: Living life on the itch ;o)

@peter_lydon: Oh I like that – very good : )

@peter_lydon: OE’s explain the intense look a (G&T) child gives a teacher in an argument (conflict) or in a contribution (discussion).

@sboswellhyde: Yes! Always provocative & unexpected; Teachers must learn to love that electricity or be doomed to outer limits of engagement.

@sboswellhyde: Perceived as prickly package in company of cellophane wrappings.

@Frazzlld: “Too” everything: too sensitive, too intense, too driven, too honest, too idealistic, too moral, too perfectionistic, too much for other people! (What is Giftedness?)

@sboswellhyde: “Too” for themselves, often, as well!

@peter_lydon: It’s like I say about G&T children-they’re just like other children only more so.

@ttbrwn: Love this!

@Frazzlld: Motto: “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess” (Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children)

Q5 How do we (should we) bring OE’s into a G&T child’s awareness and how do we help them cope with them? Do OE’s underline the importance of Guidance/Counselling services in schools?

@sboswellhyde: Self-diagnosis tools help raise awareness (thinking brain owner’s manual) with OE checks in sidebar; same for mindset/ grit.

@Begabungs: A5) Talk, talk, talk…& if they don’t want to talk: write, write, write… Diversity is the key 😉

@minka_dumont: A5 – I use an adapted (and Dutch) version of this Overexcitability Questionnaire 

@celinabrennan: Thank you for this 🙂

@minka_dumont: A5 And mostly I use Socratic questioning activities to talk with each other about OE.

@Begabungs: Everything happens in our mind and if we don’t mind they will mind…philosophy with children could be useful.

@peter_lydon: I agree.

We’re coming to a close – this was more exciting than I anticipated! Thanks guys – any final thoughts?

@minka_dumont: Would you say you’re ‘overexcited’? 😉

@ttbrwn: Great question! 🙂

@peter_lydon: Me? Nah! I’m a model of calm!

@Frazzlld: If teachers understood OE’s, it could avoid much misunderstanding & mis-labelling and make life easier for everyone in the classroom.

@ttbrwn: And…if we helped GT’s understand their proclivities toward OE, we could help them with coping strategies to share with their teachers.

@sboswellhyde: Brain owner’s manual to the rescue! Yes, on all counts -@tbbrown – for teachers learning ways their students learn.

@peter_lydon: I’d like to propose the motion then, that Intensity is the defining characteristic of giftedness. Those in favour say Aye.

@Frazzlld Aye!

Further reading: 

Identifying Gifted Adolescents using Personality Characteristics: Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities  Cheryl M. Ackerman

By Peter Lydon

1 Comment

  1. I am wary of using asynchronous dnmelopveet as the criterion for defining giftedness, unless you include physical dnmelopveet. Sometimes social and emotional dnmelopveet are so entwined with the intellectual, that you can’t really tell the level of social and emotional dnmelopveet, unless the intellectual needs of the child are being met. A second grader who is comprehending curriculum years above where he is being taught may appear to be reacting immaturely to other children in the room or may have emotional outbursts, but the cause may be the external environment, not the endogenous characteristics of the child. Put him/her in a different setting, and the child may appear entirely different social, engaged, happy. I concede that the physical dnmelopveet generally proceeds according to chronological age, so if asynchronous dnmelopveet includes that aspect, it is generally accurate, but I think the progress of social and emotional dnmelopveet is more complicated than just saying that they are often out of sync with intellectual dnmelopveet.

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