Positive Disintegration
Positive Disintegration Podcast
Celebrating Neurodiversity, Overexcitabilities, and Giftedness

Celebrating Neurodiversity, Overexcitabilities, and Giftedness

Join hosts Emma Nicholson and Chris Wells for Episode 30 with Katy Higgins Lee

In episode 30, Chris and Emma were joined by Katy Higgins Lee, MFT, a therapist and clinical supervisor in private practice in Santa Rosa, California. She works with neurodivergent adults with a focus on giftedness and twice-exceptionality. This episode is our contribution to Neurodiversity Celebration Week, March 13-19, 2023.

We kicked the episode off by defining neurodiversity with a quote:

“Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.” Dr. Nick Walker

We learned about the terms neurodiversity and neurodivergence, and the appropriate application for individuals compared to groups. Katy talked about the way that neurodivergence can be either innate (e.g., ADHD, autism) or acquired (e.g., PTSD, traumatic brain injury).

We asked Katy the question, Is giftedness a type of neurodivergence? We agreed with her that giftedness is more than an IQ score, and fits the definition of neurodivergence since this is an experience of reality that diverges from what can be considered typical. Asynchronous development was mentioned, which is a definition of giftedness from the Columbus Group that incorporates the overexcitabilities:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” Columbus Group, 1991

Katy discussed being neurodiversity-affirming and non-pathologizing. We learned that we can view these differences as identities or neurotypes, rather than disorders or disadvantages. This perspective is not meant to minimize disability, but we are taking the perspective of the social model of disability rather than the medical model. We talked about the fact that giftedness is not the advantage or blessing people may assume.

Neurodiversity-affirming means using identify-first language rather than person-first language. For instance, autistic person rather than person with autism. We also talked about not using functioning labels such as “high-functioning” vs “low-functioning” autism and instead considering differences in support needs.

It’s also critical to be trauma-informed and LGBTQ+-affirming. Katy said it’s especially important to remember the need to be trans-affirming as part of a neurodiversity-affirmative practice because many neurodivergent people are also trans, nonbinary, or otherwise gender non-conforming.

We discussed overexcitabilities being part of the gifted experience, and the autistic and ADHD experience, and how that wasn’t clear from Katy’s introduction to OEs in the gifted community. Chris had a similar experience, and they shared a little about their work to figure out if OE was really something different from ADHD or autism. Chris feels it’s time to change the narrative and help the gifted world catch up—OEs are a part of the neurodivergent experience beyond the connection with giftedness.

Katy pointed out that the term giftedness is losing credibility in the neurodiversity community partly due to OEs not being seen as types of neurodivergence, which can hinder people on their journey of self-discovery. It’s not an either/or proposition of OE or ADHD (or autism). Missed identification of neurodivergence types in gifted individuals is a cause of trauma for many.

We talked about the overlap between ADHD and autism, as well as the way that other differences seem closely connected such as giftedness, gender differences, Ehlers-Danos Syndrome, and OCD. Last year, Katy created a diagram based on the overlap between ADHD, autism, and giftedness, which we’ve included below.

Image description: Image is of a Venn diagram with three overlapping circles. One circle represents traits of ADHD, one circle represents Autism, and one circle represents Giftedness. The overlapping areas represent the traits that are shared between two neurotypes and three neurotypes. Above the diagram, text reads: Updated - December 2022 Text Common traits - not to be used for diagnosis/identification, overlapping areas are shared traits, Katy Higgins Lee MFT, along with the purple and green tending paths logo. Traits of Autism: Needing routine, order, and/or clear expectations (especially when under stress), Motor skills impacted, Soothed/stimulated through repetitive behaviors, movements, sounds, and thoughts (“Stims”), Preference for interpersonal connection through interests, Tendency to hyperfocus on a few interests for an extended period of time, Pattern recognition, Preference for direct communication, Tendency toward concrete thinking/difficulty with abstract thinking, Differences in verbal and non-verbal communication and interactions, Hyper and/or hypo-awareness of sensory information Traits of ADHD: Difficulty with transitions due to challenges with switching focus, Social interactions affected by impulse control and focus differences, Working memory impacted, Craving novelty, Differences in regulating attention (hyper-focus when interested and difficulty focusing when not interested), Tendency to hyper-focus on a wide range of interests, Needing movement or fidgeting/stimming to aid in focus, Ability to respond quickly in crisis situations/emergencies, RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria) Traits of Giftedness: Tendency toward abstract thinking, Rapid comprehension and/or “skip” thinking, Wide range of interests, Early emotional awareness, Fascination with theory, Early concern for (and ongoing need to explore) existential issues, Awareness of and need for complexity, Tendency to make connections across domains, Tendency to predict consequences and foresee problems, Needing intellectual stimulation/mental challenges Traits shared by Autism, ADHD, and Giftedness: Emotional sensitivity, Sensory differences, Interest-driven, Asynchronous development, Unique ways of learning, Intense curiosity, Executive function difficulties, Divergent/creative thinking Traits shared by Autism and ADHD: Stimming, Interoception differences, Differences in impulse control, Processing speed impacted, Different perception of time, Atypical social interactions, Hyperactivity (physical and/or mental), Alexithymia (difficulty identifying and naming feelings), Traits shared by ADHD and Giftedness: Easily bored, Thinking in metaphor and symbol, Learning in a non-linear manner Traits shared by Autism and Giftedness: Ability to notice details, Needing time spent in solitude/contemplation, Preference for logic and fairness, Preference for precision in expression, Thinking in systems, Highly developed morals
Katy’s diagram of the overlap between common traits of ADHD, autism, and giftedness. Not to be used for diagnosis or identification.

(This diagram was updated by Katy after the episode was recorded.)

We discussed how stereotypes about ADHD, autism, and giftedness, and even their names, have caused problems in understanding these experiences. Giftedness is a term with a lot of misconceptions, but it is an important difference to acknowledge and understand. Even though parents of gifted children are often gifted themselves, they don’t necessarily see it in themselves or recognize its impact on their lives. Intergenerational trauma was mentioned as one of the factors that must be talked about and addressed in order to shift the patterns that hold us back.

Links for this episode

Katy’s Tending Paths accounts on Facebook and Instagram.

Katy’s website

Katy will be joining us as a presenter at the 2024 Dabrowski Congress! Click here for more information.

Dr. Nick Walker’s website

The Origins and Conceptual Evolution of Overexcitability

Reexamining Overexcitability

Autism as a Disorder of High Intelligence

Emma’s video on looking at the tiger (Integrating Perspectives, YouTube)

Types of Increased Psychic Excitability by K. Dabrowski (PDF)

Giftedness: The View Within by M. Morelock (PDF). We’ve included this paper because it’s where asynchronous development made its debut in 1992. The book Off the Charts by Neville et al. is a great place to learn more about asynchrony and giftedness.

Connect with us!

Positive Disintegration on Substack

Visit the Dabrowski Center website



The Positive Disintegration YouTube Channel

Adults with Overexcitabilities group on Facebook

Dabrowski Center and Positive Disintegration Podcast Community on Facebook

The Tragic Gift blog by Emma

Email us at positivedisintegration.pod@gmail.com

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Positive Disintegration
Positive Disintegration Podcast
What can be positive about disintegration? Join us for an exploration of positive disintegration through conversation and shared stories. It’s a framework for understanding a variety of intense experiences that often look and feel like mental illness, but which can also be viewed as building blocks for creating an authentic personality.