Giftedness is often defined as an intellectual ability linked to an IQ score of 130 or more. However, not all gifted children excel in an academic area. Sometimes giftedness shows up as a high creative, artistic, musical and/or leadership ability relative to same-age peers.
Giftedness can be focused in a single skill, or it can be more general. It's also important for parents and educators to understand that giftedness can sometimes come alongside specific learning differences that affect performance at school.
In these situations it's important to help a child develop their talents while also overcoming any challenges posed by a learning difficulty.
In some cases of giftedness, it may be appropriate for a child to attend a special program or a school specifically for gifted children. The aim is to provide ample opportunities for advancement in a classroom environment that is sensitive to the child's needs and provides adequate stimulation.
With access to the right resources and emotional and academic support, every gifted child can achieve their full potential at school.
There are a number of ways to determine giftedness and often a combination of ability and achievement tests are used, including observation and/or a review of the student’s portfolio of work. A child’s activities both in and outside of school may be considered, along with cognitive abilities, creativity, and affective and behavioural habits.
It’s important that any tests that are used to assess giftedness be exams that don’t limit the amount of knowledge a student can demonstrate. In some areas, such as Math, specific tests have been developed to look for giftedness.
IQ tests can be a first step, including the Woodcock Johnson, Wescher Intelligence Scale for Children or Stanford Binet (L-M). While an average intelligence score is 90-110, gifted kids will typically score well above this. Giftedness may also be somewhat hereditary and a child may score within 10 points of a sibling or parent.
The earlier giftedness is identified, the sooner exceptional talents can be nurtured. Nonetheless, it is often recommended that parents wait until kids are 5/6 before they undergo formal assessment and enter into a gifted education program. That’s because outside of providing continual stimulation and opportunities for learning, there aren’t many nursery or pre-school programs especially for gifted babies and toddlers.
Also keep in mind that when giftedness has been recognized, not all schools have the resources to provide stretching challenges to extremely bright children, which can lead to boredom and underperformance. It might thus be appropriate to look into hiring a private tutor who can help your child excel.
Recognizing a gifted child
Giftedness follows a child into adulthood and every individual with giftedness is unique. While no two students will excel in exactly the same way, there are some traits and behaviours parents and teachers commonly observe when a child is gifted:
They are curious and ask a lot of questions. Gifted kids are often curious about the world around them and may ask detailed questions to satisfy their thirst for knowledge. This curiosity goes beyond simple interest in a topic and can extend to aspects that are seemingly outside of the scope of a lesson. In a school setting, the child may not be satisfied with only learning what is necessary in order to do well on an exam or complete an assignment. At home, there may not always be time or the background knowledge required to provide answers. While this can be frustrating for teachers, parents and children alike, it’s important to avoid discouraging a child from asking questions as this can be de-motivating and shut-down future communication attempts.
They take their own approach to assignments. Whereas bright students look to please the teacher and finish assignments, gifted children often have their own way of going about things. This can be due to a desire to focus on only one aspect of a topic or a perceived lack of challenge in the task itself. For example, in a school essay they may only partially answer the question or go off on a tangent. In a Math setting a child may take an alternative route to problem solving than that which was required by the question. In both situations it’s important for teachers to be tolerant and avoid reprimanding or penalizing the child for not following directions. This can damage morale and self-esteem and result in less effort being put into future assignments. Teachers may also notice that gifted children prefer to work alone and can easily get lost in their thoughts.
They have a large vocabulary and prefer adult conversation. One of the first things people notice about gifted children is their vocabulary. They often understand and use more words than their peers, including abstract and figurative language. This may be due to their reading habits and exposure to more advanced texts. It can also be thanks to a heightened sensitivity to syntax and an ability to guess at the meaning of new words encountered in context. It’s also easier for these kids to remember words, as they require less repetition in order to acquire language. As a result, they may feel more at ease communicating with adults due to their advanced language skills. Nonetheless, it is still important to encourage a child to engage with his or her peers to prevent them from becoming isolated and withdrawing due to perceived differences in intellectual ability.
They have original ideas. A child with giftedness is an original thinker and able to access abstract reasoning and bring together ideas from different areas. They may have a wild imagination and develop their own sophisticated stories, songs and/or plays. These examples of creative work can contain complex language and show an advanced appreciation for humour.
They are cognitively advanced and able to self-teach new skills. Children who are gifted may teach themselves how to read and write before they learn in school. They often have advanced cognitive reasoning skills and a good memory. Some estimates suggest that an average student needs to hear something repeated 8-15 times in order to acquire it, whereas a gifted child may only need to encounter a word, fact or idea 1-2 times. In Math class, these kids may use logic and reasoning to solve problems before they have been introduced to the target concept. They learn quickly and do not require as much practice as other children to develop new skills. They may easily become bored when a lesson is repetitive and this can lead to them tuning out. Children with giftedness can often benefit from a condensed curriculum that covers more material in less time.
They are sensitive to their environment. From a young age the gifted child is very alert and tuned into his or her environment. Some have acute concentration skills and can easily become hyper-focused on a task. It is through engaging with new stimuli that they are able to develop cognitively. That’s why it is important to ensure gifted children receive adequate stimulation, particularly in school settings that offers plenty of room for advancement.
They have strong feelings. These children may be quite opinionated and have strong feelings about topics that are important to them. They can also be more aware of the opinions and feelings of other people. However, this does not necessarily translate into knowing how to deal with this information through appropriate social channels. They may be quite emotional. Because some gifted kids are extremely self-aware, it can cause them to become introvert and feel that they don’t fit in. This is one reason why parents may choose to move a child into a gifted program where they will have other intellectually advanced kids as peers.
What is gifted education?
The need for gifted and talented education was first recognized in the late nineteenth century shortly after the development of intelligence testing. The first gifted school was opened in Worcester, Massachusetts in the early 1900s and today gifted classes, programs and schools exist across the United States.
While most schools require students to be in the top 97% percentile of their same age peers to be considered for gifted and talented services, the definition of gifted varies by state and district.
Students are typically nominated for screening, tested to determine the extent and areas of their giftedness and then placed in an appropriate program. It’s crucial to note that not all children’s giftedness will show up on an IQ test and the National Association of Gifted Children reports that EAL/ESL kids who are studying in their second language may be an underrepresented group among gifted children programs, along with minorities and kids from low-income families.
Gifted children and learning difficulties
There are also cases in which gifted children stand out because of poor academic achievement. This is often surprising for parents to learn as many people assume that giftedness is always associated with high performance.
Yet it is possible for a learning disability to overshadow giftedness. This is especially true when a child has ADD/ADHD or dyslexia. There can be giftedness in one subject, such as Math, but a learning disability that affects performance in other areas of the curriculum.
Lastly, it can be the case that kids who are gifted become easily bored when they don’t find schoolwork challenging and are misdiagnosed as having ADD/ADHD because they stop paying attention in class. Learn more about ADD and ADHD in these posts.
Helping the “twice exceptional” child
Children with learning difficulties and giftedness may benefit from programs that help them focus and stay on task, while developing vocabulary and literacy skills at the same time. Touch-type Read and Spell is a touch-typing program that uses a phonics based approach to reinforce reading and spelling skills and teach typing and English vocabulary to children and adults, including those with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, ADD and ADHD.
As an illustrative example, extremely bright dyslexic children may be articulate, but struggle to write in a way that reflects the extent of their knowledge or vocabulary. They may choose the simplest and shortest way to express themselves in writing because they are overwhelmed with the number of directions their composition can take.
They may also struggle with handwriting, which involves a range of skills such as being confident with the directionality of letters, and having the muscle coordination and skills needed to hold the pen and produce work which is legible to themselves and others.
Learning to type can make it much easier for these kids to get words onto a page. For gifted children who struggle with dyslexia, it also facilitates spelling which is stored as muscle memory in the hands. Learn more about keyboarding and dyslexia and improving writing skills.
Motivation and encouragement
The TTRS program helps to build a learner’s confidence through step-by-step learning and can facilitate computer skills which are important for gifted children who can use the Internet as a tool for exploring ideas in greater depth.
It’s key to remember that giftedness is often first noticed when children enter school. A child may easily progress a grade or two beyond their level, particularly in a specific subject area, but still remain at the same social and emotional developmental level as their peers.
While a child may be confident and independently motivated, he or she still requires plenty of encouragement and understanding from teachers and peers who “get them.”
If you don’t send your child to a school for gifted children, it is still possible to find online support groups, including forums that allow both children and parents to develop friendships and exchange ideas. Learn more about motivating children to learn and encouraging exceptional students.