Hypersensitivities in Children with High Learning Potential
One way of understanding some of the characteristics of individuals with high learning potential is to look at the ‘hypersensitivities’ or ‘overexcitabilities’. The term overexcitabilities, sometimes referred to as OEs, comes from the Theory of Positive Disintegration, a personality development theory, which was developed by Kazimierz Dabrowski – Polish Psychologist and Psychiatrist (1902-1980).
More information about hypersensitivities is available on our advice sheet PA610 Hypersensitivity (Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities)
In developing and researching his theory Dabrowski found that people with advanced emotional development, including advanced moral development, had a set of traits which he termed ‘Overexcitabilities’, or hypersensitivities. This is characterised by an innate tendency to respond in an intensified manner to various forms of stimuli, both external and internal. This could also be termed ‘spirited’. Having overexcitabilities means that life is experienced in a manner that is deeper, more vivid and more acutely sensed
Dabrowski researched his theory with a group of 50 gifted young people aged between 8 and 23 years. He found that all of them had overexcitabilities. He also found that many of them had depression or anxieties and he concluded that
“Probably the cause is more than average sensitivity which not only permits one to achieve outstanding results in learning and work, but at the same time increases the number of points sensitive to all experiences that may accelerate anomalous reactions revealing themselves in psychoneurotic sets“
Research done on the topic carried out since then has confirmed this finding and further research is still being done today.
The 5 Hypersensitivities that Dabrowski observed were:
Psychomotor hypersensitivity is an enhanced excitability of the neuromuscular system. It is characterised by a surplus of energy, being busy and restless, having rapid speech and gestures with whole body.
There is often intense physical activity, though not necessarily ability in this area, meaning that it may or may not be accompanied by poor physical coordination. Individuals with psychomotor over-excitability are often prone to fidgeting and fiddling.
Behaviours associated with psychomotor hypersensitivity are:
- Compulsive talking and chattering
- Impulsive actions
- Nervous habits (tics, nail biting)
- Compulsive working
- Acting out
With an individual with this hypersensitivity there is a high risk of ADHD misdiagnosis. However, putting down an individual’s issues that is affecting their daily functioning solely to psychomotor hypersensitivity could stop that individual getting support for the difficulty.
Find out about supporting children with psychomotor hypersensitivity with our advice sheet PA611 HLP and Active (Psychomotor Overexcitability)
Intellectual hypersensitivity is an intensified activity of the mind. It is characterised by curiosity, good concentration when interested, sustained intellectual effort on matters of interest, avid reading, keen observation and a search for truth and understanding.
Behaviours associated with intellectual hypersensitivity are:
- A Reverence for logic
- Asking probing questions
- Existential questioning
- a Preoccupation with theoretical problems
- Difficulty in learning to get the ‘right’ answer on tests
- A need to understand where new knowledge fits into current understanding
Find out about supporting children with intellectual hypersensitivity with our advice sheet PA612 Enthused About Learning (Intellectual Overexcitability)
Sensual hypersensitivity is when sensory aspects of life are heightened. It is characterised by sensitivity to sensory stimuli, delight in beautiful objects, strong reactions to music, aesthetic interests, a need for comfort and an increased need to touch or be touched.
Behaviours associated with sensual hypersensitivity are:
- Strong reactions to stimuli
- Difficulty with discomfort
- Difficulty sleeping or getting to sleep
- Musical preferences and overwhelmed reactions
- Taste and smell sensitivity
With an individual with this hypersensitivity there is a risk of sensory processing disorder misdiagnosis. However, putting down an individual’s issues that are affecting their daily functioning solely to sensual hypersensitivity could stop that individual getting support for difficulties with sensory processing.
Find out about supporting children with sensual hypersensitivity with our advice sheet PA613 Sensual Hypersensitivity (Sensual Overexcitability)
Emotional hypersensitivity is when feelings and emotions are intensified. It is characterised by extremes of emotion, having complex emotions, a perceptive identification of feelings in others, strong somatic expressions of feelings, strong attachments with others, and having an inner dialogue and self-judgement.
Behaviours associated with emotional hypersensitivity are:
- Fears, anxieties and depression
- Need for security
- Concern for others’ wellbeing
- Difficulty in adjusting to new environments
- A Sense of responsibility
- Feelings of guilt
With an individual with this hypersensitivity there is a risk of misdiagnosis of mental health problems. However, putting down an individual’s issues that are affecting their daily functioning solely to emotional hypersensitivity could stop that individual getting support for the difficulties they are facing. When an individual is struggling with their feelings on a daily basis, counselling can help.
Find out about supporting children with emotional hypersensitivity with our advice sheet PA614 Emotional Hypersensitivity (Emotional Overexcitability)
Imaginational hypersensitivity is a capacity to visualise extremely well. It is characterised by having private worlds, being prone to invention and fantasy, having detail visualisation abilities, recounting elaborate dreams, having pretend friends and having a tendency towards dramatisation.
Behaviours associated with imaginational hypersensitivity are:
- Intense living in world of fantasy
- Mixing of truth and fiction
- Being prone to nightmares
- Having fears of the unknown
- Imagining negative consequences
Find out about supporting children with imaginational hypersensitivity with our advice sheet PA615 Overactive Imagination (Imaginational Overexcitability)