As a parent, I have to watch environmental factors closely to ensure they don’t affect the at-home learning of my children. Two of my children are gifted with multiple of Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities, and stimuli affect their learning as a result. Kazimierz Dabrowsky, the developer of the Theory of Positive Disintegration, “defined overexcitabilities as ‘higher than average responsiveness to stimuli, manifested by either psychomotor, sensual, emotional, imaginational, or intellectual excitability’” (Bailey, 2010). Both of my gifted children have three of Dabrowsky’s overexcitabilities. Children, who have overexcitabilities, can be taught to use them as learning strengths rather than challenges, but when they are young, their education can be frustrating because of constant environmental distractions:
One could say that one who manifests a given form of overexcitability, and especially one who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger, and more multisided manner. Reality for such an individual ceases to be indifferent but affects him deeply and leaves long-lasting impressions. Enhanced excitability is a means for more frequent interactions and a wider range of experiencing (Bailey, 2010).
To help my gifted-only learners at home, I require homework to to be done in the dining room because the room is painted a soft color, which allows the walls to fade away, limiting visual distractions for both of them, who have sensual overexcitability. They are not allowed to listen to music or stare at random objects while they work, and they have to eat their snacks before they begin work. If an activity stimulates the five senses, then it’s bound to affect their learning in a negative, distracting way rather than helping them stay on task. As long as they have a calm room with a muted color, limited sensory input, and snacks already taken care of, they are fine to learn independently.
And then there is my third child. He is gifted, autistic, ADHD, OTI, and SLP--with a specific sensory disorder to boot. My third son is NEVER boring. He is my angel, but he is a tornado of activity, no matter what anyone does. He is least affected educationally if he is allowed to move constantly while learning. According to Dr. Lucy Miller, “Movement is crucial for all children! Children are asked to sit for way too long without moving” (2013). When I taught middle school, I noted that most students benefited from engaging, kinesthetic activities for just this reason.
My multi-exceptional son needs freedom of motion, but he also needs intentionally chosen input to focus him and curtail distractions from ANYTHING--one cannot predict on a given day what might distract him. Even plants have distracted him because they “feel so wonderful” and allow him to self-soothe instead of focusing on his work. He needs to work in a different room than his siblings, and it’s the office. He can stand, sit, roll around, talk to himself, choose unique seating, or sit in the office chair (rarely his choice). He may take as long as he wants to get his work done. He needs breaks to stand and hop in the air, to talk to himself, and to talk through his learning. He does not stop moving even when he sleeps. The only thing he has in common with his siblings is that he learns everything independently--by choice. He would rather take more time than have anyone else telling him how “they learned it.” He will find his own way--or no way.
As a teacher, I have seen a variety of student needs over the years, and I usually have a version of most of those needs every year. Some students need music to mute smaller noises. Some students need discussion. Some students need a well-painted room that is warm, welcoming, and calming. I had one specific group of students, who truly benefited from the calming effects of peppermint, so I used it that year and hate it to this day because it does not calm me (Karges-Bone, 2013). Some students need specific colors, which help them process reading material faster than traditional options. Some students need regular snacks, no snacks, or even specific snacks to help them focus and learn.
Working with CLD students taught me that the fastest way to determine what works with a specific student is to ASK. Most of us have enough self-awareness to know when we focus and when we don’t, and taking a student’s knowledge of self into account can help a teacher provide an effective learning environment faster than many profiles (McCarthy, 2014). When self-awareness is not helpful, a learning profile can provide clarification on what other environmental factors might need to be removed or added to aid a students.
As a student, who rarely felt any effects on my education or even considered that environmental factors might be affecting me, I have developed a passion for these factors and how we can limit any negative effects they have on students to ensure higher academic success and growth in our buildings.