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How Do I Know If My Child Is Gifted?

Trust in yourself. Your perceptions are often far more accurate than you are willing to believe.  -- Claudia Black

NOTE: Research studies consistently show that parents are better judges of a child's intellectual abilities than classroom teachers. The following checklists may be helpful to you in determining if your child's intellectual abilities lie in the "gifted" range.

Who Is Gifted?

"Children can be extremely gifted in music or art without having exceptional overall IQs ... The best evidence for gifted operating independently of IQ comes from savants, individuals with extremely low IQs who are nonetheless able to perform at dazzling levels in a few well-structured, formal domains, notably calculation, piano playing, realistic drawing, and chess."

Gifted Child Quote of the Month

What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough. --  Eugene Delaxcroix

From "Gifted Children" by Ellen Winner

The IQ test is currently the most societal accepted form of assessment used to determine who is or is not intellectually gifted since it produces a numeric score which can then be compared against population norms to assign a ranking. Those who score in the top 2% are termed "gifted." This corresponds to an IQ score of approximately 125.

Why Identify Gifted Children?

Handbag contents of a mother of a Gifted toddler
Plastic bags for collections.
Assorted love notes.
8 - 10 rocks.
Found buttons or colorful tags.
Crayons, assorted colors.
Scrap paper airplanes.
Glue sticks.

More Quotes

In order to understand what the other person is saying, you must assume that it is true, and try to imagine what it is true of. -- George Miller

Our society recognizes and rewards "giftedness" of varying types and degrees. For the most part, that recognition has little if anything to do with helping the individual to live a better, more fulfilling life. Instead, society focuses on "what can you do for us." Artistic gifts and talents are recognized by the fruits of the individual's labors, e.g. a painting to hang on the wall or music for listening or dancing pleasure. Our society has a history of providing support to individuals for the purposes of furthering the development of their artistic talents and gifts.

Intellectual giftedness, on the other hand, receives little if any recognition from society with regards to the needs of these individuals for support in the development and utilization of their gifts and talents.

From "Guiding the Gifted Child"  by James Webb

"The lack of understanding and the lack of priority given by our society to these persons foster a climate in which the emotional needs of gifted children are neglected. As stated in the Maryland Report (1972) 'Gifted and talented children are, in fact, deprived and can suffer psychological damage and permanent impairment of their abilities to function well."

Giftedness Is Their Birthright

Children, all children, are deserving of the best that we can give them. For the gifted child, this means identification of their needs and then adapting and modifying both our parenting style and the educational environment so that each child can grow and blossom. To do otherwise not only robs the child of his birthright, intellectual giftedness, but in the extreme is cruel and unusual punishment. The child did not ask to be intellectually gifted. It's time our society stopped punishing him for having significantly different needs, emotional, social, and intellectual, as a result of having a significantly higher IQ.

Taking the Moral High Ground

Why the "moral" argument? Because those who oppose the identification of gifted children usually take the "moral high ground" refusing to see how their high-handed self-assured beliefs in the moral supremacy of their "egalitarian" beliefs are causing harm to children, children who have needs that are significantly different from the mythical "average child" upon whom teacher education curricula and parenting classes are based.

If for no other reason, the identification of giftedness in children and the adaptation of their family and school situations to accommodate the gifted child's unique developmental needs is justifiable -- because to grossly ignore the needs of any child is neglect. In the extreme, it is child abuse. Plain and simple.

Intellectual Giftedness in Toddlers

For young children, between the ages of 3.5 - 5.5 years, the following traits have been significantly associated with intellectual giftedness:

  • Having a large vocabulary
  • Complex thinking ability
  • Unusual capacity for symbolic thought (mathematical skills)
  • Insight (ability to see relationships)
  • Early physical and social development
  • Sensitivity

(From: Parents' Guide To Raising A Gifted Toddler, Alvino, 1989)

From the U.S. Office of Gifted and Talented:

Short list of typical gifted preschooler (ages 2-5) characteristics:

  • Uses advanced vocabulary for age.
  • Uses spontaneous verbal elaboration with new experiences.
  • Has the ability to make interesting or unusual shapes or patterns through various media: blocks, play dough, crayons.
  • Ability to assemble puzzles designed for older children.
  • Sense of humor used in general conversation.
  • Understanding of abstract concepts such as death and time.
  • Mastery of new skills with little repetition.
  • Demonstration of advanced physical skills.
  • Demonstration of advanced reasoning skills through explanation of occurrences.

Comparison of Bright vs. Gifted

Bright Child   Gifted Child
Knows the answersAsks the questions.
InterestedExtremely curious.
Pays attentionGets involved physically and mentally.
Works hardPlays around, still gets good scores.
Answers questions.  Questions the answers.
Enjoys same-age children. Prefers adults or older peers
Good at memorization.Good at guessing.
Learns easily.Bored. Already knew the answers.
Listens well.Shows strong feelings and opinions.
Self-satisfied.Highly critical of self (perfectionist)

Source: Janice Szabos as quoted in "The Gifted and Talented Child," Maryland Council for Gifted & Talented Children, Inc. P.O. Box 12221, Silver Spring, MD 20908

Interlude: Rules for Learning The Art (of strategy)

From the "Book of Five Rings"

Think of what is right and true.

Practice and cultivate the science.

Become acquainted with the arts.

Know the principles of the crafts.

Understand the harm and benefit in everything.

Learn to see everything accurately.

Become aware of what is not obvious.

Be careful even in small matters.

Do not do anything useless.

Gifted Identification By Schools

Identification of intellectually gifted children means different things to different people. In the school setting, the term "identification" is used to refer to the nomination of children for TAG or G/T programs within the school setting. Parents should not allow themselves to fall into the trap of thinking that the school's determination that a child is not eligible for participation in a TAG or G/T program means that the child is not intellectually gifted. If one child in a family is "gifted" then it is more likely than not that all family members, including the child's parents, are of equally high intelligence, i.e. "gifted."

Outside of the school setting, identification of giftedness in school-age children usually means determining that a child's intellectual abilities are well above average as measured with a standard test instrument such as the WISC-III, Raven's Progressive Color Matrices, or Stanford-Binet IQ tests. Most schools, however, do not use the IQ score alone to determine eligibility for gifted education programs. Typically, a selection committee or an administrator uses existing records to rank score students according to a set of selection criteria. These scores are then combined with a variety of assessment strategies to identify and nominate gifted children for inclusion in the school's "gifted" education program. The variability in criteria and assessment strategies reflects the fact that there is no one standard definition amongst educators of "giftedness" or "gifted behaviors."

Factors commonly used to "identify" gifted students:

  • grades
  • teacher nomination
  • achievement test scores
  • intelligence tests
  • parental nomination (highly reliable yet used less often)
  • self or peer nomination (less often)

Questionable selection strategies used in nominating students for TAG programs include:

  • limiting selection to high-achieving students
  • overlooking minority students
  • using test instruments inappropriately
  • combining selection criteria inappropriately.


  • Children from poor socio-economic backgrounds and/or minority racial backgrounds are significantly LESS likely to be identified as gifted in school-based screening programs.
  • Children most likely to be nominated via school-based screenings are compliant, hard workers who rarely challenge the teacher's authority.
  • "The extremely bright or the creative, curious, and questioning students, who may be stubborn, rule-breaking, egotistical, or otherwise high in nuisance value, may not be the teachers' favorites, but they sometimes are the most gifted." (Davis & Rimm, "Education of The Gifted and Talented, 2nd Ed." 1989)

There & Then vs. Here & Now

School-based identification procedures must, of necessity, take into account the goals of the specific educational program and available funding resources. The result, however, is increasing degrees of variability in selection processes since different school districts have differing definitions of giftedness and differing program goals for their gifted education programs. A child may be eligible for gifted education programs in one school district but declared ineligible by the district next door or in another state. Within a single school, a child may be eligible for gifted education programs one year but not the next. The child's abilities have not changed. Only the program's goals or resources have changed. Remember, "identification" does not confer the status of "gifted" or "not-gifted." School based identification is an eligibility determination. Children do not become "un-gifted" from one year to the next.

Elimination of Gifted Programs

At the Federal level, in the USA, and in academic circles, program goals and definitions of giftedness are constantly being revised to reflect changes in social and educational reform philosophies. The trend over the past five years (since the 1994 legislation was passed), has been to eliminate separate programs for intellectually gifted children in favor of programs "providing a challenging level of academic study for all children." Thus, appropriate identification of intellectually gifted students is becoming less and less of a priority in the schools. Your child may not be "identified" as gifted for the simple reason that there are no special programs or services for gifted children. The phrase "all of our children are gifted" is a red flag that should alert parents to the lack of a gifted education program, a lack of understanding regarding the needs of gifted children, and the lack of a school-based identification program.

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