Coping With Intensity

Montana Association for Gifted and
Talented Education
April, 2013
 Wendy Morical, Bozeman Public Schools
 Session goals
Establish a positive perspective
Brief overview of Dabrowski’s theory
Description of the overexcitibilities
 Strategies for supporting students
“If just being smart is all there is to being gifted,
then what’s the problem?”
–Living with Intensity, Rivero
“When I am listening to music my
mind is not aware of anything else.
I concentrate so heavily on music
when I hear it that I cannot read
efficiently and listen to music at the
same time; I start to read in
F, 18
“When I go into a class with a lot of
enthusiasm and energy but the class
is slow and boring I come out with
two times as much energy ready to
explode. Unfortunately I usually let
this energy out by talking or goofing
off in class, resulting in trouble.”
M, 13
“..often my imagination takes over
and I absolutely hear a voice or see
someone running. I fear I’m going
to be a menace on the roads when I
get my license because of this
M, 15
“Frustration is the emotion that hits
me the hardest. First it makes me
mad, and since I can’t do anything
to relieve the frustration when I’m
mad I become depressed. When I’m
frustrated I’m very irritable and
sarcastic, and people learn in a
hurry that they’d better leave me
F, 16
“When I ‘get into’ a concept or
theory, I am very happy and,
sometimes, I almost lose my touch
with the world and I ‘space off’.”
M, 17
“I am always dissecting and
analyzing which tends to ruin
things, but I can’t help it. I
have this need to understand.
It verges on the obsessive
M, 17
“I feel like an alien.”
 “Gifted
children take in information from the
world around them; they react and respond
more quickly and intensely than other
children. They are stimulated both by what’s
going on around them and by what moves
them from within.”
 “Because
they can be so greatly stimulated,
and because they perceive and process things
differently, gifted children are often
Living with Intensity, Daniels and Piechowski
“ A child, rich in intensities
and sensitivities, cannot
be brought down to the
“normal” range… Gifted
children should not be
pressed to “fit in” with all
of the other children the
same age. Rather, their
capacity for intense
experiencing is an asset
that deserves to be
understood and affirmed
instead of squashed.”
Living with Intensity, Daniels and
Theory of Positive Disintegration
Kazimierz Dabrowski
Viewed “superstimulatability” as potential for further
 Disintegration as a prelude to rebuilding
 Emotional development is result
Development Potential – three factors
Genetic traits: talents, specific abilities, general
 Overexcitibilities
 Capacity for self-determination, autonomy
Five Overexcitabilities
Innate tendencies to respond to various stimuli
Experience of things may be deeper, more vivid, more
acutely sensed
 “…greater
capacity to be stimulated by and
respond to external and internal stimuli.
Overexcitability permeates a gifted person’s
existence. Whether it’s music, language,
physical sensing, kinesthetic activity,
imagination, or something intellectual, an
overexcitability orients and focuses [him].
Overexcitability gives energy to [his]
intelligence and talents. It shapes [his]
personality development.”
Note: this quote, and the following overexcitability information
come directly from Living With Intensity, edited by Daniels and
 Educate
 Accept
 Communicate
 Model
 Celebrate!
“There is a vitality, a life force, a
quickening that is translated through you
into action, and there is only one of you
in all time. This expression is unique, and
if you block it, it will never exist through
any other medium; and be lost. The world
will not have it.”
–Martha Graham, 1894 - 1991
 Muscular
activity associated with mental
 High energy level
 Not associated with athletic talent; due to
asynchrony, that may even lag behind
 Movement facilitates learning
 May be verbally active as outlet
 “Enthusiastic, driven, competitive, acting
 May be misdiagnosed as ADHD
 According
to Daniels, these children need to
“You have wonderful enthusiasm and energy.”
“I wish I had your energy.”
“You put your whole body into your learning.”
“Your intensity [drive] can help you do many
“Sometimes our bodies need to relax.”
Strategies to support children
Discuss positive aspects of OE.
Plan for movement, avoid prolonged sitting.
Involve child in physical tasks – errands?
Teach that time out can be a choice, not
Model and teach relaxation techniques.
Help child notice signs of exhaustion or need for
quiet time.
“The spectacle of the
sky overwhelms me.
I’m overwhelmed when
I see, in an immense
sky, the crescent of the
moon, or the sun.”
–Joan Miró, 1893 – 1983
 Heightened
experience, both + and -, of
seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, and
 Often coupled with enhanced aesthetic
 Smell may evoke deep, positive emotional
connection – or strong aversion
 Finicky eater – or gourmand
 Sounds can be soothing, uplifting – or highly
 Sensitive to touch (labels, socks); may
appreciate comfort objects longer
 Not exaggerating! Experience is real to them
 According
to Daniels, these children need to
“You take such delight in beautiful sights,
sounds, and feelings.”
“You like ________, but I notice _______ bothers
“It seems you know what you like and what feels
good to you.”
“Sometimes, it’s good to try new things. Would
you like to try________?”
Strategies to support children
Discuss positive aspects of OE.
Provide environments that limit offensive stimuli.
“Dwell in delight”! – make time to relish
Allow for child to control own living space as
much as possible.
Allow for prolonged attachments to objects.
“My goal is simple. It is a
complete understanding of
the universe, why it is as it
is and why it exists at all.”
- Stephen Hawking, born 1942
Capacity and appetite for intellectual effort and
 Quest for understanding, truth
 Curiosity, “Why?” questions, fixations
 Mental multi tasking; thinking own “what if…”
thoughts, also following along
 Requires access to rich, varied challenges
 May be coupled with perfectionism; focused,
driven until “perfect”
 “Sometimes I feel like a big head rolling around”
 Profound focus may be misdiagnosed as
 According
to Daniels, these children need to
“Your curiosity fuels your intelligence.”
“You have wonderfully wide/deep interests.”
“You have great potential to learn new things
and make changes.”
“You really stick to projects that interest you.”
“You defend your ideas and are open to learning
different information.”
Strategies to support children
Discuss positive aspects of OE.
Listen to child’s ideas; schedule if necessary.
Honor child’s desire to know and understand.
Help children find answers to their own questions.
Allow child to develop and pursue own projects.
Help children develop goals and self-reflect on
progress toward them.
Seek opportunities for interaction with intellectual
“I dream, therefore I exist.”
–August Strindberg, 1849-1912
Linked with creative production
 Heightened capacity for fantasy, less constrained
by “the way it is.”
 Imaginary playmates common
 Imagination is source of retreat and delight
 Need to make thing more interesting can be
challenging for teachers
 Capable of clear mental visualization
 Daydreams are vivid
 Great asset; wanes with teen/adult pressure to
“grow up!”
 Can lead to mistaken ADD diagnosis
 According
to Daniels, these children need to
“You have a rich imagination.”
“You view the world in a unique way.”
“You think of and tell great stories.”
“You make the mundane extraordinary” (!)
Strategies to support children
Discuss positive aspects of OE.
Support creative and imaginational expression.
Provide opportunities for relaxation and free
flow of ideas.
Provide creative outlets.
Help small children distinguish between
imaginary and the real world, determine when
imagination is appropriate.
Have child use imagination to solve problems and
cope with challenges.
“I have found it easier to identify with the
characters who verge upon hysteria, who
were frightened of life, who were desperate
to reach out to another person. But these
seemingly fragile people are the strong
people really.”
Tennessee Williams,
 Most
extensive, Dobrowski felt
 Not as prized as intellectual, creative
 Intense feelings that are manifested in
extreme, complex, positive or negative ways
 Significant emotional response to
“insignificant” stimuli
 Sometimes rooted in fears, anxieties:
concern for others
excruciating self-scrutiny
 Complexity
of emotional response can
paralyze or inhibit: how to act?
 Strongest bonds not always with peers
 Empathy for others, social action
 Can transcend own life and see overarching
 Sometimes somatic expressions: heart racing,
sweating, stomach ache…
 Often accused of overreacting, drama
 Misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety, bipolar
 According
to Daniels, these children need to
“You are sensitive to others’ feelings.”
“You care very deeply and have deep feelings.”
“You are very loyal to those you care about.”
“You are wonderfully aware of
Strategies to support children
 Discuss positive aspects of OE.
 Accept feelings and the intensity with which they
are expressed
 Develop a feeling vocabulary
 Learn listening and responding skills
 Teach children to anticipate emotional
experiences, and rehearse responses, strategies
 Use journaling to record feelings
 Find activities that provide for expression of
empathy and social concern
“In ways both subtle and all-too-obvious,
society tries to transform unique perceptions
into commonplace, standard-issue behaviors,
beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes. When this
occurs, we chip away … the essence of
– Parenting Gifted Kids, Delisle
 Ensure
appropriate educational services
Challenge, to stretch and develop strategies
Organizational skills
Work ethic
Interaction with students of similar ability
 Use
creativity, patience, trust
 Work within parameters of classroom
 Build
into classroom routine
 Can be related to senses
Music, white noise, quiet, noise cancelling
Dimmer switches
Yoga, breathing, exercise
Pilates balls, rocking
 All
kids need boundaries
 Schedules
 Class meetings
 Advance warnings if change-averse
 Make sure they realize you’re talking to them
(name, touch)
 Know
signs and situations that may trigger
distress or “emotional flooding”
Come up with ways to communicate when a
student is getting distressed
 Classroom
seating choices
 Snacks, to eliminate “bipolar” reactive
 Expect needs to change as they mature
 Acknowledge
the emotions
 Brainstorm, record optimistic options
 Tag team – recruit helpers
 Take care of yourself
 Celebrate successes – and pass them on
Daniels, Susan and Michael Piechowski, eds.
Living with Intensity. Great Potential Press, 2009
 Delisle, James. Parenting Gifted Kids: Tips for
Raising Happy and Successful Children. Prufrock
Press, 2006
 Fonseca, Christine. Emotional Intensity in Gifted
Students. Prufrock Press, 2011
 Michels, Debbie and Teresa Rowlinson. Getting
Over Excitabilities. SENG Vine, March 2011
 Rivero, Lisa. The Smart Teen’s Guide to Living
with Intensity. Great Potential Press, 2010
 Webb, James Misdiagnosis and Dual
Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults. Great
Potential Press, 2005

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