6 Things You Need If Your Child Has Intellectual Overexcitability

6 Things You Need If Your Child Has Intellectual Overexcitability

Intellectual overexcitability is sometimes described as ‘perpetual toddler syndrome’ (Living With Intensity). Children with intellectual OE ask questions. Lots of questions.

“How many people exactly are there in the world? That book in our bathroom says 278 babies are born in the time it takes to read to the bottom of the page. Who counts them?”

“What do you think dogs dream about?”

“Who invented scooters?”

These children have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, love solving puzzles, often have a deep interest in moral issues, and can ponder problems for hours.

“Which two animals would you like to cross, Mummy?”

“I’m not sure, sweetie. Let me have a think. How about you?”

“Well, for land, my answer would be a lobster and an elephant. My sea animals would be a swordfish and a jellyfish. For air, it would probably be peregrine falcon and a mosquito. And if I could cross land, air and sea…”

Parenting these incessantly curious children is a delight – and can be exhausting! Here are a few of the things I’ve discovered you need to make the most of the delight and minimise the exhaustion . . .

1. Books

I’m sure no one reading this needs telling that kids with intellectual OE love books. For most parents the biggest problem is probably how to prise the book out of their child’s hands during meals or at bedtime. {When I was a kid I used to cover my lamp to stop my parents seeing my reading light under my bedroom door. That stopped the day my mum came upstairs saying she could smell smoke and discovered I’d burned a hole in my dressing gown. ? }

If your intellectually OE child, like mine, has other special needs which make reading challenging  (like dyslexia or ADHD), audiobooks can be a godsend.

My ten-year-old’s headphones are as permanently attached to him as a book was to me when I was growing up. With an Audible subscription each book only costs a few pounds, so your twice-exceptional child’s book habit needn’t break the bank.

6 Things You NeedIf Your Child Has Intellectual Overexcitability
We also love non-fiction compilations with plenty of pictures, like these in our bathroom ‘library’. The Bill Bryson is also available as an audiobook.

2. Smartphone

Books are all very well but what about those need-to-know-now emergencies that happen while you’re out of the house? Like when you’re walking along the beach and can’t remember the word for someone who does magic with water {hydromancer}. Or in a restaurant and you want to know which country has most vegetarians {India}. Or on a London bus and wonder how tall the tallest building in the world is {2722ft – the Burj Khalifa, Dubai. Thanks, Google!}

3. Quiet zone

Engaging with intellectually OE kids can be wonderfully stimulating, but keeping up with their energy at the same time as doing all the other things adult life requires can be a challenge.  You need time to recharge, especially if you’re a sensually OE introvert like me.

As a homeschooling mum I spend almost all my time with my children so it’s crucial for me to look after my energy and emotional wellbeing throughout the day. I’ve learned the hard way that no one benefits if I ignore my body’s signs that I need a few minutes’ quiet time.

If making a physical retreat isn’t possible, like when I’m in the middle of cooking dinner or back when I had to keep an eye on little ones, I create some virtual space with a white noise app like Brain Wave.

4. A relaxation technique

Make your time in your quiet zone as restorative as possible by finding a relaxation technique that works for you.  Whether it’s meditation, yoga, prayer, mindfulness or just five minutes curled up with a grown-up book, the time you invest in relaxing will allow you to give better quality attention to your intellectually OE child later.

My kids think of my 15-minute meditation sessions as ‘Mummy reboots’.  I usually find my mind wanders less if I listen to guided visualisations while meditating. Other people prefer to listen to relaxing music or just to breathe deeply. I also like the Buddhify mindfulness app which has over eighty short meditations suitable for all sorts of locations and moods.

6 Things You NeedIf Your Child Has Intellectual Overexcitability - Buddhify

5. Thick skin

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of raising a child with OEs is dealing with other people. Whether your four-year-old is asking a woman on the train why she has a moustache or your nine-year-old isn’t letting other children get a word in edgeways at a workshop, you’re all-too-often aware of other people judging your parenting skills. This can be especially stressful if you have emotional overexcitability.

If only growing a thicker skin really was an option. To be honest I’m still working on this one, but two things  I’ve learned so far are:

(1) Try not to take other people’s reactions personally. They don’t know about OEs or what it’s like to bring up a child whose insatiable need to know can drive them to ask question after question, long after social convention would have them stop.

(2) Focus on the positive side of intellectual overexcitability by cherishing the gift of curiosity and remembering that behind all of history’s greatest engineers and scientists was probably an (at times) embarrassed mother.

6. The ability to explain complex ideas in child-friendly terms

When my kids were little, older relations used to warn me against explaining myself to them.  “They should just learn to accept ‘Because I say so’”, they reasoned.

But even if I’d agreed with that advice, my kids had other ideas. Children with intellectual OE won’t be fobbed off, so in my experience there’s no point wearing yourself out trying. (Besides which, you’d miss out on some great conversations.)

A child with intellectual OE needs to understand.  So whatever your child’s age, be prepared for lengthy debates on such matters as why we have to clean our teeth, whether parallel universes exist, what should be done about homelessness and why the long division algorithm works, from the second they wake up until the moment they go to sleep. (See the importance of quiet time and relaxation, above!)

Over to you

  • What does intellectual overexcitability look like in your family?
  • Have you had any embarrassing moments when your child hasn’t been able to stop themselves from blurting out a question in public?
  • What are your top tips for recharging your energy?

I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page, or drop me an email.

Intellectual overexcitability resources

Jade Ann Rivera – How to Identify and Cope with Overexcitabilities, Part 3 of 5: Intellectual Overexcitability

PowerWood – Intellectual OE

Living With Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski

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This is part four of my series on the five types of overexcitability. See also:

7 Signs Your Child Has Psychomotor Overexcitability,

What Is Sensual Overexcitability? and

The Ups and Downs of Imaginational Overexcitability.

Next week I’ll be ending the series by talking about emotional overexcitability. Fill in the Subscribe by Email box below to get it straight to your inbox.

* * *

To find out if you or someone in your family has OEs, take the free online OE questionnaire at the PowerWood website. (Results come back by return email.)




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35 thoughts on “6 Things You Need If Your Child Has Intellectual Overexcitability

  1. Lots of things resonating here! Some of the conversations we’ve had on the way to school (planetary allignment, the water cycle, Marvel- amongst other things) have certainly exercised my brain of a morning!

      1. I saw a clip on YouTube of Jada Pinkett-Smith (& her mother, I think) being interviewed by her daughter. There’s a wonderful section where she talks about exactly this. I’ll try to find it and comment with the link….

          1. I love that, Hannah – thank you for sharing it.

            I especially like the part where she talks about how when she’s not looking after herself she begins to make her children responsible for her happiness by saying things like, “I need you to do this…”. Been there, done that! 😀

  2. All I agree, thick skin I have, patience well I am still working on it.
    What I want to know is how do you set them up for adult hood

    1. Monita, I’m definitely work in progress when it comes to patience, too.

      ‘How do you set them up for adulthood?’

      Great question, and probably my inspiration for writing this blog. I’m finding that the more I learn about overexcitabilities, the better I am able to help my children value all the positives OEs bring and to manage the behaviours that bring challenges. I learn best by sharing my journey with others, so you can rely on me to share here what I learn about preparing these unique children for adulthood. 🙂

  3. Oh my mercy! This was right on track and hilarious.. Made me laugh through being exhausted.. My 5 yrs old son has all of the OE.. Thank you for your blog! I loved it and it was helpful too!

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Blanda, it’s made my day! So good to know there are kindred spirits like you out there. 🙂

  4. My teenager cornered me yesterday while I was in the middle of writing a difficult email for work to deliver a complete lesson on Medieval Japanese history. I started off extremely distracted, but he was so frustrated that I wasn’t listening that he had tears welling up in his eyes… He *needs* somebody to listen. Eventually I abandoned the email and let him tell me, because he’s so passionate about things that he feels thwarted if he can’t share it ALL right now!!! I try to maintain boundaries in time and space, but I have a real sense that while I’m graced with this fascinating young man who still wants to talk to me, I should listen. Even if I still have to write the email this morning.

    I recommend taking deep breaths and learning to monitor your internal dialogue. It can be frustrating to be interrupted with contextless and apparently random information for 16 years straight!!!

    Also, I’m still like this, my husband is still like this, and my father is still like this. So, too, plan to stay with it for the long haul. And give them lots of (gentle) coaching around self-regulation and social cues… we had to learn that there are some people you can ask (librarians!), and some people you can corner and talk at, and a certain eyes-glazed-over expression that means that it’s time to move on – and find somebody else, not give up on the idea!

    Oh! Third thing: actively seek out other kids who are equally interested in the world… ideally in groups. There’s a good possibility that your kids have no real “peers” in an average classroom, and having *somebody* to talk to (other than adults) is vitally important. My son and I both found our first communities of peers in our mid-teens, and by that time we had internalized a lot of negative ideas about ourselves. Still working them out! What was severely lacking in my own childhood was a space (outside my home) in which it was OK to be as smart as I was.

    I’ll stop now! (See what I mean?)

    1. Hi Seonaid, You can share your wisdom and experience here anytime! I find it so encouraging hearing from mums of older kids.

      It can be frustrating to be interrupted with contextless and apparently random information for 16 years straight!!!

      Yes! But a big yes to this, too:

      I have a real sense that while I’m graced with this fascinating young man who still wants to talk to me, I should listen.

      I really identify with what you say about peers. It wasn’t until I learned about OEs (and that whole side of high ability) that I realised why I’d always felt a bit of an outsider. Now that I understand better, I’ve been able to coach my (extroverted) daughter about the importance (to her) of maintaining interest-based friendships while nurturing and cherishing relationships with those we feel a deeper connection with. And I was marvelling in appreciation the other day when listening to my son and his friend in the car and I realised that the friend speaks fluent ‘Jasper’!

      Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation, Seonaid!

    1. Hi Kate,

      Yes! The apple does indeed fall close to the tree. I was my trying to find out more about my son that led me to the first workshop I went to about OEs, and while I was there I realised that both my daughter and I also have them. (Since then I’m seeing them in my whole family!)

  5. What a great post. Someone once told me my son had sensory processing disorder but half of the diagnosis didn´t ring true for my son, this however certainly does. I have tried quiet time with yoga and meditation with my son but he hates it, a book does sometimes seem to work but ofcourse he wants to question every sentence haha. Great resources here too! #coolmumclub

    1. Jane,

      Thanks for your kind words. 🙂

      My son was diagnosed with SPD, too. I’m still not sure whether he has it, but in any case the label didn’t offer much practical help. In contrast, when I found out about OEs, for the first time I became aware of a whole framework which explained everything. We’ve been able to help our son appreciate all the positives OEs bring, as well as begin to teach him strategies to help manage the more extreme aspects of his behaviour.

      Jasper doesn’t like doing quiet stuff either, but he at least recognises that giving me time to do it helps me keep up with him!

  6. Wow this sounds intense! But also incredible….the more I read your posts the more I wonder about my own daughter, I really do. Thanks so much for sharing this on #coolmumclub x

    1. Intense is the word, Talya! If your daughter does have OEs, she’s very lucky to have a mum who’s aware of them while she’s so young. I wish I’d known about all this before my youngest was 9. Still, better late than never. 🙂

      Thank you so much for hosting #coolmumclub! x

  7. I am visiting from #coolmumclub and I am so glad I clicked on your post because everything you described is my 9 year old to a T. While he doesn’t like to read, reading isn’t his strong suit, he loves being read to. He has ADHD and I have never heard of this before. It explains so much about him! Literally from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed, he asks questions but he also tells all sorts of stories about different theories he comes up with, especially with the planets. He loves space and Minecraft. Minecraft allows him to make all of these really cool things and when he’s done he HAS to show them to me and then proceeds to tell me a story he made up about it. Would you mind if I wrote a blog post about discovering this on my own blog? I am fascinated by this discovery and I write about my son’s ADHD. I will, of course, reference. Would that be okay?

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I’d love for you to write about OE on your blog. I created Laugh, Love, Learn to share what I’ve been discovering, so the more people who share, the better!

      I’m very interested to hear your son has ADHD. Can I ask if you saw my post about psychomotor overexcitability? Overexcitabilities are commonly misdiagnosed as ADHD, which isn’t to say that a child can’t have both (in fact I’m currently researching the possibility of my son having ADHD as well as OEs). But from what I’ve read, it can be hard to tell where OEs end and ADHD begins.

      I love the sound of your son’s stories! It sounds like he might also have imaginational OE.

      If you’re able to, Michelle, you might want to consider going to a PowerWood workshop to find out more about OEs and strategies to help your son. The next one is on 12 March in Ealing. That was the workshop that started my journey – I can highly recommend it.

      Please do come back and share a link to your post, I’d love to read it and I’m sure others would too. 🙂

  8. I’ve never heard of this concept before, this was really interesting. Thanks for sharing #coolmumclub

  9. Wow this is so interesting, I’ve never heard of it before! It describes my 5yo daughter to a T, I can find conversations with her exhausting! I’m definitely going to do more research on it. Thanks for posting, I don’t feel so alone in it now!! #coolmumsclub

    1. Hi Louise, Thank you for your encouragement! I felt very alone for a long time so I’m so happy to hear your words. 🙂

  10. Yes my daughter is 11 now and it an be difficult to get her to focus on things she is not interested in, the mundane, the homework! as the parent I’m on repeat a lot.
    It was only in the last year and a half that we got the diagnosis of 2E.
    Embarrassing public moments started when she was three yelling out male private parts in a park.
    Kindy teacher episodes, where intense reactions to not eating an apple. After watching other children use the apple peeler winder yet when it came to her turn she enjoyed using the apple winder machine but had a melt down eating the apple as she had some time before chose to no longer eat apples. theKindy Teacher did not know how to handle this extreme emotional reaction. But you know she was the only one in the class to solve a very difficult three D puzzle. I just thought my girl is sensitive, very bright and knows her own inquisitive mind however…..
    One of the worse time’s was when I had kept her up late a night before Kindy, first time Mum thing, trying to be two places at the same time with no support, The next day was payback, there were heated discussions and she let me know she was not happy with me for getting her out of the house. Anyway she arrived at Kindy the Kindy teacher said to My daughter what do you want to put in your Mother’s Day card and she did not hold back and the teacher write it down and yeah, not a great Mother’s Daywhen I opened her card..These days it’s public shopping together that can be hard even when I plead for no drama in the shops it falls on deaf ears. If there is a point to be made, a disagreement, it will happen and it will not be done quietly. You have to grow a thick skin.

    Kindy in NZ is short for Kindergarten in NZ and Australia Preschool education age 4/5 years.

    Our house is not a quiet one as I like to hear my daughters views. Though I have often heard other people without 2E kids say yeah our house hold is quiet, there is no shouting…..

    Teachers get embarrassed too. A senior teacher had told the class everyone was invited to write a speech. No one volunteered. my daughter and her friend volunteered and she spent a bit of time on this speech and this is an area she great at. But at school they were told only the the child who had got top marks in a previous test would get to give the speech. my daughter had not Had the chance to sit the test but the school had been advised of here abilities So we brought this incident up with the Head Master, and this was denied…..but within a week the head teacher involved apologised to my daughter and said there had been a communication break down……It does feel that2E kids r overlooked in schools, our experiences have to date have not been great.

    1. Hi J and thanks so much for sharing your story, which I’m sure other parents of 2E kids will identify with. I certainly feel your pain. (Mothers Day – ouch!)

      My 2E son is 14 now and is now much better at managing his behaviour in public, though his intellectual OE still requires me to pull that thick skin around me, not least when he tries to draw me into intense political debates at every mealtime or dog walk. Having said that, he’s intensely stimulating company and there’s never a dull moment when he’s around!

      I hope things get easier for you, advocating for your daughter at school as well as at home.

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