I have been doing some reading on gifted individuals lately and have a bone to pick with some of the language being used. My contention is with the idea that gifted people are overexcitable.
This is the introduction to the section on “overexcitabilities” from an e-book called “Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted: 30 Essays on Giftedness, 30 Years of SENG.” which was put out by SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted).
“Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience.”
The list of “overexcitabilities” discussed is as follows:
The essay then goes on to describe how to help normal folk deal with these overexcitable people. Here is another excerpt.
“Share the descriptions of OEs [overexcitabilities] with the family, class, or counseling group. Ask individuals if they see themselves with some of the characteristics. Point out that this article and many others like it indicates that being overexcitable is OK and it is understood and accepted.” (Emphasis mine) -This was from the section on discussing the concept.
Then you should focus on the positives, cherish and celebrate diversity, teach people how to communicate respectfully…
The list of suggestions went on but my ears were turning off. Seriously!? You had me at “over-” and the rest just sounded rather tongue-in-cheek. I mean no disrespect. I am sure the author of this article meant well and probably isn’t even the one who made up this terminology. This organization is trying to meet a very real need, but words have meaning, people!
Here is the meaning of the prefix “over”
“excessively; to an unwanted degree;” -New Oxford American Dictionary
“a prefixal use of over, preposition, adverb, or adjective, occurring in various senses in compounds (overboard; overcoat; overhang; overlap; overlord; overrun; overthrow), and especially employed, with the sense of “over the limit,” “to excess,” “too much,” “too,” to form verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and nouns ( overact; overcapitalize; overcrowd; overfull; overmuch; oversupply; overweight), and many others, mostly self-explanatory: a hyphen, which is commonly absent from old or well-established formations, is sometimes used in new coinages or in any words whose component parts it may be desirable to set off distinctly.” -Dictionary.com
Replacing the prefix with its actual meaning, the above quote can be translated “being excessively excitable to an unwanted degree is OK and it is understood and accepted.” They are gifted, right? Really bright? I am betting that more than a few have understood the meaning of “over-.” Gifted people and those who interact with them often need help understanding and accepting their differences and viewing them as a good thing, but this kind of language is not helping anyone.
From the perspective of many gifted people, these “excesses” are normality, which makes the rest of the “normal” world seem rather dull. These people generally avoid calling the “normal” people dull and would appreciate if the “normal” folk would avoid calling them excessive.
All these characteristics are spectrums of human behavior, and to discuss them one must use language that describes where on the spectrum you are referring to, thus comparative language is necessary. If you want to set the standard language according to the most “normal” people, that makes sense to me, but please don’t choose language that smuggles in an upper “acceptable” limit. That shoots you in the foot. Many of these people would be considered “highly intelligent.” Wouldn’t it serve everyone better to call them highly psychomotor, highly sensual, highly intellectual, highly imaginational, and/or highly emotional. This would accurately describe their position with respect to the norm, and would have a positive connotation which would help the gifted and those who interact with them truly accept and appreciate the diversity.