Does your gifted child or a classroom child react negatively to sensory stimulus? Instead of seeing the sensory quirks as a negative aspect of life, there are many ways to change the focus to finding a creative spark. Kazimierz Dabrowski recognized gifted kids often have overly sensitive responses to their environment. Within his studies, he looked at many aspects of how these often-perceived flaws or disruptions in kids are perhaps simply a function of their brains working overtime to process information at a higher speed or level. There is a long list of Dabrowski's Excitabilities. Dabrowski broke down the "sensual" excitabilities into heightened reactions to the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. These positive or negative reactions could involve sensitivity to smells, tastes, textures, a strong appreciation of beauty, a scavenger-level love of objects, an increased need for comfort or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, being bothered by tactile intrusions like a shirt tag. Instead of viewing the behaviors as negative, I agree with Dabrowski that the excitabilities can become a positive aspect if approached as an equal gift, instead of as a detriment or distraction.
For this blog entry, I am going to explore using Dabrowski's "sensual" excitability of touch to find a creative spark by taking a look at how a heightened tactile sense can be used to encourage creative writing. In creative writing and artistic pursuits especially, the excitability behavior can be viewed as that moment of inspiration when the increased sensitivity to a sensual experience is that eureka moment when great creativity strikes. When Cohen composed the song "Hallelujah," it is reported he was found exhausted in a hotel room from the creative process of writing the song. Finding that eureka moment of creativity may be as simple as harnessing these sensory excitabilities.
To begin, think of the question: How does a gifted child experience the world through the perception of Dabrowski? The simplest way to get that answer is to just ask the child, especially at that moment when the excitability is at its heightened state. When socks or a shirt are irritating them, ask what about the sensation bothers them. The answer might be as simple as the sensation is itchy, or the child might respond by saying that it feels as if a snake is crawling up their back.
After exploring the child's perception of the heightened sensory experience, the next step can be to find ways to encourage creative writing enhanced by that very sensitivity to tactile influences. Many of the exercises below can also be adapted for the other senses. I will continue the exploration of the excitabilities in upcoming columns with additional techniques to make often-difficult responses into positive creative outlets. Exploring the tips below can be a great way to explore creativity.
1-Interactive journalling can be used to integrate actual tactile materials into a writing journal. In a similar fashion that a scrapbook might be used, interactive journalling with tactile objects can introduce the feel of a memory by having the texture or feel of that object next to the words it describes. While pressing leaves and dried flowers might be the first idea, including tactile journal reminders can extend beyond nature objects to money, fabric, images, tickets—anything that physically reminds the child by heightening the sense that made the object's feel important to them at the outset.
To change the interactive journal to fit with the other senses, a journal of photographs can be made, or the tactile objects can be used in a sight-based format instead.
2-Creating a "feeling collage." Buy a simple canvas and have the child collect tactile objects on a nature walk or just through the house. Glue the objects to the canvas. Have the child feel the objects with their eyes open, and then again with their eyes closed. Have them write about how things feel differently with and without the sense of sight.
To adapt the "feeling collage" for other senses, the child can be introduced to different smells and tastes with and without their other senses present. For example, blindfold while tasting or smelling and see if the objects invoke a different response. Write notes about how an apple smells and tastes when the child can't see it.
3-Explore emotions. The next time the child has an emotional reaction to a tactile object or feeling, have them write down where their emotions go when they physically and emotionally feel something. Is there a tearful response when they touch their teddy bear because it was a special gift? Does the feel of the ocean breeze make them afraid they will drown?
4-Writing prompts with eyes closed and only a tactile feel of the area. This exercise may require a little parent or teacher help. Have the child focus on the surroundings and materials involved in writing: the feel of the paper, the desk, the pencil, the computer keys, the floor under their feet, eraser bits, pencil shavings. Make the tactile feeling of writing a focus in the process.
Other senses can be explored by having the child describe everything they see with each of the other individual senses. By honing in on one specific sense at a time, it can help the child focus their thoughts.
5-Writing prompts with objects as inspiration. Narrow the tactile influence by starting with a prompt that focuses on touch. Some examples:
“She felt like . . .”
“He touched the . . .”
“The breeze blew across the . . .”
“The dog's fur felt like . . .”
“My tears feel like . . .”
To focus on a different sensory reaction, substitute "She saw . . .".
6-Take notes all day on the tactile feelings of their surroundings. At the end of the day, take an inventory of the experience, and use it to set up character settings based on the descriptions of how their actual environment felt all day. This could be as simple as what the car leather felt like as they went to school or the feeling of their morning cereal in their mouth.
7-Do a character description based strictly on what the character feels and what the characters feels like to others. By focusing on what another character feels like, the child might include surprising details about themselves they might not otherwise share. They might also introduce reactions to sensory details that are different than their own as something they strive to.
8-Write the room. Have the child write down everything that they touch in the room and then add that to scenery details in a short story. Take a look at what the child perceived within the room involving all the senses as well as just touch.
9-Do a first-person character description of how an atmosphere makes them feel. How does the wind feel? How do their jeans feel? The carpet? The glass of the window? Writing it from a character's perspective instead of their own can make it come alive as a good thing.
Have the child write after trying one of the focused exercises above for a set amount of time based on what they felt during the experience. The format is up to the child. It could be a short story about sock snakes or a haiku about summer breezes turning into dragons. Songwriting is another way to explore the sensory reactions. By taking a closer and positive look at the senses as they relate to behavior and reactions, the gifted child might just find that creative spark to inspire them.