Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Dabrowski's Overexcitabilites and Picture Books

Addressing Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities Through the Genre of Picture Books
Dr. Bob Seney
World Conference for Gifted Children

Gifted children take in information from the world around them; they react and reason more quickly and intensely than other children. They are stimulated by what's going on around them and by what moves them from within. (Daniels)
This lecture was particularly exciting for me. Perhaps it's because I have so many of the overexcitabilities myself. Perhaps it is because I see so many of them in my children. In case you've never heard of Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities, I'll give a brief overview of them.

According to Stephanie Tolan, in Dabrowski's Over-excitabilities: A Layman's Explanation, “It's a stimulus-response difference from the norms. It means that in these 5 areas a person reacts more strongly than normal for a longer period than normal to a stimulus that may be very small. It involves not just psychological factors but central nervous system sensitivity.”

So, what does this mean for our children and ourselves? These sensitivities can be wonderful gifts for the artist, musician, mathematician, athlete, etc. They can also be burdens for the children whose sense of hearing is too acute, whose need to move is suppressed, whose imagination creates terrors for them.

The five areas are psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional. For children who have all 5 areas of overexcitability, life can be quite intense. I am an adult with all five of the overexcitabilities. Knowing what life feels like for our children with these sensitivities can help us help them. Let us address each one individually.

Someone who experiences psychomotor OE may need to more more and need more physical activity than the average person. But, this person may also have a difficult time calming their mind down for sleeping. They frequently have high levels of movement, energy, gesture a lot, and even speed talk.

This is the child who can't stand to wear socks. Those seams at the toe physically hurt their feet. I was never so happy as to learn to knit so that my socks fit me correctly. Hanes no tags were custom made for these children. People with sensual overexcitabilities may seek out sensory experiences, having a need to touch different textures, see vivid colors, smell everything in their environment, and be able to detect small variations in taste. On the other hand, their sensitiveness to texture and taste may make them 'picky' eaters. These children can be brought to tears by a symphony and have a true emotional response to a sunset.

From Tolan “These are the dreamers, poets, “space cadets” who are strong visual thinkers, use lots of metaphorical speech. They day dream, remember their dreams at night and often react strongly to them, believe in magic (take a long time to 'grow out of' Santa, the tooth fairy, elves and fairies, etc.)

When I was a kid, my parents told me there was no Santa, but I was determined that there was. My mother decided to take me to all the malls and show me that there were Santas in all of them, so Santa couldn't be real. I responded, “He's magic!” I have vivid dreams. I've woken up with adrenaline pumping through my body, tears running down my face, and having an emotional response to something that didn't happen, but my emotional response is just as strong as to reality. Our children's imagination can be an amazing, wonderful, terrifying thing.

This is the overexcitability that gets children labeled as gifted. According to Tolan, “Kids with a strong 'logical imperative,' who love brain teasers and puzzles, enjoy following a line of complex reasoning, figuring things out. A love of academic, new information, cognitive games, etc.”

These are the people who need input constantly. When parents or teachers try to slow them down, it can cause them to go into a deep depression. These children's brains are working on hyperdrive, and hyperdrive hasn't even been invented yet.

This is intensity of emotion. These children have higher highs and lower lows. They also have a wide range of emotions, and develop deep connections with other people and animals. If they are unable to find close friends, they may have imaginary friends. They have strong senses of empathy and compassion. Their anger is legendary, their sorrow devastating to all around.

When Xavier was in kindergarten, his teacher called me the 2nd day of school to tell me he wasn't settling in. I thought, “It's only the 2nd day of school!” But, I went to the school and took her a two page list of things to do to help him settle in. The one thing that made the most difference was making sure he had enough to eat. She called me the following week and said, “It's like a totally different child! When he's happy, it's like the sun is shining inside our classroom. And when he's not happy, it's as though the worst thunderhead had made its way into our room and won't leave.” He feels emotions deeply and strongly.

The greatest gift that we can give gifted learners is an awareness and appreciation of their sensitivities, intensities, and passions. (Silverman)

Dr. Seney proposes that we help children understand, and deal with their own overexcitabilities using picture books. Dr. Seney makes the point that the illustrations speak directly to both Sensual OE and Imaginational OE, and perhaps to Emotional OE as well.

We can use bibliotheraphy to respond to children's needs, especially since many of them are avid readers. According to Dr. Seney, bibliotheraphy is guidance in solving personal problems through selected readings, and can be either therapeutic or preventative.

Below I have listed a few of the books Dr. Seney recommended for specific overexcitabilities. I am listing the books that I have personal experience with, and what OE he recommends them for. I do not have permission to share the entire list, so I will not do so.

Code: Psychomotor (P); Sensual (S); Intellectual (IN); Imaginational (I); Emotional (E)

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (I, S, P) – a family favorite that addresses frustration, imagination, and redemption, and motion- oh the motion!

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tail and Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems (E, I) We love all the Mo Willems books. These particular books address the loss of a close friend through the loss of a stuffed animal.

Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae (P) Have you ever wanted to do something that was difficult for you to do, or you didn't do in the prescribed way?

Paddle to the Sea by H. C. Hollin (IN, S) Another author whose books we love. This book draws you into the journey a model canoe makes down the river to the sea. Children can see how obstacles can be put in their path that they have to overcome.

Love You Forever by R. Munsch (E) Oh, wow, is this an emotional book! This book can bring a grown man to tears, and you can expect the same sort of emotion from a child with an emotional overexcitability. I would say this book would be an excellent resource for a child dealing with the loss of a parent.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (I, P, IN, S) This book is quoted so often in our house that I still seriously consider putting Sam on our wall.

Absolutely Positively Alexander, The Complete Stories by J. Viorst (E, IN) If you have a child who needs reassurance that he/she is not alone in feeling strong emotions, this is your book.

Rapunzel by P.O. Zelinsky (S, IN, E) This book is a feast for the eyes.

Dr. Seney provides his top ten young adult book list on Hoagies for your perusal, along with several other lists of young adult books. He publishes a review of new young adult books each year. Since his list is available online, I want to provide that list for you here, because he provided us with the OE connections for each of those books. For a more complete list, including authors, please visit Hoagies.
What Child is This (E)
Fade (E,I)
Salamandastron (I)
Gathering Blue (E, I, S, IN)
Dogsong (E, IN)
Bridge to Terabithia (E)
The Van Gogh Cafe (I, S, E)
Interstellar Pig (I)
Welcome to the Ark (E, IN, S, I, P)
A Solitary Blue (E, IN)

It is unfortunate that the stronger these excitabilities are, the less peers and teachers welcome them, unless they, too, are gifted. Children exhibiting strong overexcitabilities are often made to feel embarrassed and guilty for being 'different' Criticized and teased for what they cannot help, they begin to believe something is wrong with them. (Michael Piechowski)
Other resources: Show Me a Story: Why picture books matter by Marcus
The Teenager's Guide to Sensitiveness by Judy Galbraith
Living With Intensity by Daniels and Piechowski
Some of my Best Friends are Books by Halsted
Bibliotherapy: The Interactive Process by Hynes and Hynes-Berry
Dabrowski'sOver-excitabilities: A Layman's Explanation by Stephanie Tolan

*Rather than linking to each book individually, I have added them all to my Amazon store front. I also added a few books of my own that I think address some of the overexcitabilities. I am not linking to the Young Adult books Dr. Seney has listed on Hoagies because Hoagies is supported entirely through donations and people following their links. Please, purchase books through their website to support them!

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