Gifted and Talented

Gifted kids are different. The primary feature of giftedness is intensity. They are intense kids who experience the world in an intense way. They are often ‘busy little bees’ and do not stop to eat or even to sleep. Parents may not be able to get them to take naps or to bed on time. They are intensely curious. Gifted kids decide that they want to know something, and they won’t stop until they are satisfied they have fully explored it. They devour new ideas and have a voracious appetite for knowledge. They are often confused about why other people may tune out or disengage while hearing about their amazing discoveries. Gifted kids tend to be sensitive, both emotionally and to their surroundings. When something bad happens to a friend, stranger, or someone on the news, the child may become inconsolable. Gifted kids tend to love reading. They are highly creative and imaginative. They are deep thinkers. They are highly perceptive, and teachers may find that they grasp new information quickly and with a depth of insight that is exceptional and rare. Gifted students think quickly and have great memories; they cannot bear to have things repeated that they already know. For this reason, they often have challenges in school [2,11]. Sometimes, teachers assign more work to gifted kids to challenge them. Unfortunately, this approach will simply frustrate them even further. Hannah Larson, Licensed Professional Counselor and GT Coordinator at Colorado public school explains,

When working with students who are GT, I notice that they are very deep. They understand the world in a deep way. Sometimes when I observe them in class my heart breaks a little because their teacher or classmates do not always understand them. They have such a broad understanding of a concept that is being taught, that often they understand it better than the teacher and their classmates. Sometimes this is off-putting to those around them even though they may not be trying to be off-putting…

Emotionally, they are very aware of their feelings and their internal process and the subtle feelings of others. They get ahead of themselves; they understand how inside they are ticking but they are not always aware that others are not as deep. They understand a concept fast and it is hard for them to see how someone else does not have that same depth of knowledge.”

What are Gifted and Talented?

Giftedness is a misunderstood term. To truly understand giftedness, a few quick points must be clarified. First, giftedness is not an elitist term or an excuse for bragging rights. In fact, most gifted kids feel ‘different’ in a way that can be isolating, frustrating, or even embarrassing. Any ‘exceptionality’ can bring about feelings of being on one’s own island, a thread far apart from the fabric of normalcy that weaves people together.

Secondly, disagreements can occur over whether it is fair to classify one exceptionally bright student as gifted, while another may have skills that are not evident on a test. When identifying student as gifted, most school programs consider multiple areas of potential giftedness. For example, general or specific intellectual ability, creative or productive thinking, leadership abilities, specific academic aptitude, specific talent aptitude, visual arts, performing arts, and motor abilities, are all categories under which students can be identified [10].

Finally, it is important to understand that giftedness is a real thing. Although intelligence tests get a bad rap, true brain differences can be identified on an IQ test. Children who score exceptionally high on these tests have a true brain difference. It does not mean that their brains are better, but it does truly mean that something is exceptional about the way they think and learn.

An IQ test is not the only method of determining whether a child is gifted or talented. Best practice is to identify giftedness using a thorough Body of Evidence (BOE) that includes multiple sources of data, such as a cognitive test, an achievement test, a talent or creativity test, a portfolio, a contest or competition, parent input, a performance evaluation, an interview, an observation, and/or a checklist [10]. Most schools utilize a universal screening to initially identify students. Often, all students complete a test in second or third grade to screen for giftedness. If the child scores very high on the test (typically above the 95th percentile), more testing is done to complete a body of evidence and to determine if the child qualifies as gifted. Then, the child’s school would develop an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP) to set goals and develop strategies to meet the child’s gifted needs. For kids who do not quite qualify as gifted, they may be considered members of the talent pool. In that case, the identification process does not stop; rather, this identification should be an ongoing and fluid. The talent pool is defined as, “a group of students who demonstrate an advanced or even exceptional ability in a particular area, but at this time do not meet the criteria for gifted identification” [10]. Often, students from the talent pool will be provided with gifted programming and may be identified later as gifted.

The term ‘Gifted and Talented’ (GT) thus encompasses both concepts, meaning that the child is very bright and demonstrates exceptional skills. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted thusly,

“Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).” [12]

A final distinction must be made when thinking about gifted children. Children with disabilities can also be gifted. These students are identified as ‘Twice Exceptional’ or 2E. Some children may have multiple areas of giftedness and/or multiple disabilities, and those children may be classified as multi-exceptional. As the name implies, children who are identified as 2E are ‘exceptional’ in terms of their skills and their challenges. Generally, this population of students has some struggles in school, finding some subjects come easily but others are very difficult. For example, a child with autism and giftedness in mathematics may have extreme difficulties with writing. Alternately, it may be that the child is very bright but struggles in all subjects due to poor executive functions. For example, a child with ADHD and giftedness is likely to have a hard time planning and organizing, sitting still in class, and turning assignments in on time. Often, the traits of giftedness contribute to a bit of a social delay. The child may be inclined to ignore other’s ideas or dismiss them as irrelevant. In this case, other kids do not want to be in their group because they are bossy and unyielding. On top of these gifted challenges, the disability may contribute to social problems. For example, a child with autism often fails to take the perspective of others; a child with ADHD may be impulsive and act like a “bull in a china shop.” As it may seem, being twice or multi-exceptional is no picnic. These students demand a higher degree of support and compassion from parents and school professionals to meet their unique needs.

What are the signs and symptoms of Gifted and Talented?

Although often misunderstood, most people who work with gifted kids find them to be endearing and engaging. These children have a variety of unique traits that can form a foundation for the next generation of leaders in our world.

Intensity. These students are deep thinkers who are engaged with learning. They want to know how things work and will stop at nothing when obtaining new knowledge. This intensity often leads to feelings of frustration when others do not get as excited about their ideas and when peers do not work with the same boundless energy for school projects or extracurricular exploration.

Smarts. These kids are smart. They have exceptional aptitude and a high level of curiosity. They have active imaginations and are highly creative. They are perceptive and think quickly. They have excellent memories and may only need to hear something once before they have mastery. They often forge new paths in math, science, and the arts. They generally have a huge vocabulary and a way with words. Gifted kids often love to read and have an unyielding will to gain new information. They may have a keen wit that may be far beyond peers of the same age.

Perfectionism. Often, gifted kids are perfectionists. They have an image in their minds, and often their work product cannot conform to the vision. For example, one gifted child was trying to draw a dog that he saw in his mind. The dog was supposed to look like a particular breed, anatomically perfect, in a particular pose. When his drawing did not meet his expectations, he became extremely upset. As would be expected, this tendency to expect perfection, coupled with the intensity, can lead to stress and anxiety. Most gifted children need to learn strategies to calm down and to quiet their minds.

Divergent thinking. Gifted kids think differently. They are often fiercely individual and do not conform. In class, they say weird things. Upon reflection, adults often realize that these strange ideas are brilliant. They do not see the same obstacles that others do. Often, gifted kids become furious with the injustices that they find in the world. They may have a keen sense of morality and social justice. When these triple traits of intensity, perfectionism, and divergent thinking are combined, these children often make great leaders. Gifted kids have the energy and focus to initiate and lead programs at school or in the community. They often have the charisma to attract crowds of like-minded people. It is also true, however, that many gifted children are introverts. Although they may be able to speak in front of a big crowd and intensely sell their ideas, they often need time alone to refuel and recharge.

Sensitivity. Gifted kids tend to be highly emotional. They can get their feelings hurt easily and may not quickly recover from setbacks. Just as the gifted mind can more easily perceive and understand information, it can also more quickly pick up emotional cues in the environment. They can be quickly upset and may find minor ‘infractions’ to be hugely disturbing. For example, a gifted kid might regard a casual disagreement over the way to approach a project as unforgivable. In addition to emotional sensitivity, some gifted kids have sensory sensitivities [17]. Common sensitivities are tactile issues, such as irritation over constricting clothing, and the textures of certain foods. They may gag when presented with new foods and may not eat much.

Underachievement. Although gifted kids tend to perform exceptionally well in certain endeavors, they may not do as well in school as one would expect. Lisa Van Gemert (aka Gifted Guru) [14] calls underachievement “the Sleeping Dragon of GT.” The intensity of the GT mind can sometimes be crippling when encountering topics that appear boring or too easy. They may simply refuse to do homework or to listen in class. Although they may get away with tuning out the teacher for a while, eventually this tactic will catch up to them. They may not be able to complete assignments because they were essentially “asleep at the wheel.” Alternately, children may perform so well that they achieve higher and higher levels of status, working alongside peers who are much older or more experienced. Gifted students may be members of MENSA or may take college courses in elementary school. Sometimes, in these new social circles they encounter imposter syndrome. They quickly forget that they achieved such status by virtue of their very own aptitudes, thinking instead, “what if people find out that I don’t belong here?” They may choose to drop out of such programs or to drop out of school. Thus, GT may bring about feelings of being ostracized and misunderstood. If your gifted child suddenly loses spring in her step, stops participating in previously enjoyable activities, or becomes withdrawn, then your child may be depressed. If this change is happening, get help from a mental health professional right away.

How is Gifted and Talented treated?

Children who are gifted may require intervention to be successful in school. As previously mentioned, giftedness will contribute to exceptional aptitude but may bring additional challenges. Most schools have a universal screening and identification process. When students are identified, an Advanced Learning Plan is developed and revisited each year in collaboration with parents. Although these plans are helpful processes, they are often insufficient. Gifted children may benefit from gifted programming. The school may offer opportunities to explore materials at a deeper and broader level. Some programs offer acceleration for gifted students. Although acceleration may be useful, keep in mind that gifted kids do not necessarily want to work faster or harder. They certainly do not want more worksheets to bring home. Instead, they want opportunities to explore and master topics of interest. Clubs like Odyssey of the Mind, coding club, chess club, engineering club, and art club may be engaging for them. Parents can consider interesting summer camps where they can explore theater, robotics, inventions and art. This population is not “one size fits all,” and parents may find the search for the right fit to be a bit daunting.

Gifted children from disadvantaged backgrounds may require additional support. If you are the parent of a gifted child and cannot afford such enrichment opportunities, reach out the organization where the opportunity is being offered to inquire about scholarships. Often, these programs reserve a certain number of spaces for gifted students to attend for free. School professionals should also take the time to research scholarships and free opportunities for gifted students. As stated earlier, some students from the ‘talent pool’ of children who do not quite qualify for gifted identification will indeed be identified once they have ample opportunity for exploration and enrichment.

Outcomes for gifted children depend significantly on the level of the giftedness and the type of support in place for student. Keep in mind that although they experience challenges, gifted children tend to be the leaders of the next generation and often make meaningful contributions to our world. Gifted children with IQ’s in the 130-140 range tend to do okay in the general classroom but may require some differentiation or opportunity for enrichment [16]. Socially, a gifted child may have slight differences, but some like-minded peers are generally available in the classroom [16]. Highly Gifted students (IQ=140-160) are generally not going to benefit from the typical classroom and will require gifted programs [16]. They may prefer to older children and adults as companions. Parents may help their children by finding professors or other experts the child can work with or ask questions of, as parents and teachers often cannot meet their needs. Profoundly gifted students (IQ=160+) cannot be served in most educational environments. Profoundly Gifted students are at the highest risk [16] for school failure, drop out, depression and other problems. It is recommended that a team of professionals in the child’s life come together to determine how to foster the student’s talents. However, with the right supports in place, gifted children can thrive and may become not only fully functioning members of society but the leaders of our next generation of great minds.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Gifted and Talented?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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Helpful resources for Gifted and Talented


[1] Betts, George; Carey, Robin & Blanche Kapushion (2017). Autonomous Learner Model Resource Book.

[2] Delisle, James R. (2014). Dumbing Down America: The War on our Nation’s Brightest Minds (And What We Can Do to Fight Back).

[3] DeVries, Arlene R.; M.S.E. & Webb, James (2007). Gifted Parent Groups: The SENG Model.

[4] Galbraith, Judy (2013). The survival guide for gifted kids: For ages 10 and under.

[5] Galbraith, Judy & Delisle, Jim (2011). The gifted kid’s survival guide: Smart, sharp and ready for (almost) anything.

[6] Gardner, Howard (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons in theory and practice.

[7] Trail, Beverly A. (2011). Twice exceptional gifted children: Understanding, teaching, and counseling gifted students.

[8] Renzulli, Joseph; Reis, Sally; Baum, Susan; Betts, George; Assouline, Susan; Borland, James; Callahan, Carolyn; Clark, Barbara, & 12 more authors (Due: May 26, 2017). Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented, 2nd Edition.

[9] Rivero, Lisa (2010).  A parent’s guide to gifted teens: Living with intense and creative adolescents.

On-Line Accessible Articles:

[10] Colorado Department of Education: Office of Gifted Education (2016). Gifted identification.

[11] Coberly, Andra (August 19, 2011). Gifted.Talented & Beyond: How high ability students strive to learn, fit in and prosper in local schools.

Yellow Scene Magazine  

And for gifted traits

[12] National Association for Gifted Children (Retrieved: 2017) Defining giftedness.

[13] Sword, Lesley Kay (2011). Emotional intensity in gifted children.

[14] Van Gemert, Lisa (Retrieved 2017). The Gifted Guru. A phenomenal speaker at the Colorado Association of Gifted and Talented (CAGT) conference.

Other resources and websites:

[15] Bradley, Terry (Retrieved 2017). Terry Bradley – Gifted Education: Specializing in the emotional needs of gifted education.

[16] Colorado Association of Gifted and Talented (CAGT) (Retrieved 2017)

And for the gifted spectrum

[17] Dittrick-Nathan, Karin & Willard, Marcy (October 13, 2011). More than sturm and drang (storm and stress): Supporting the social emotional needs of gifted adolescents.

[18] Hoagies Gifted Education Page (Retrieved 2017).

[19] Institute for the Development of Gifted Education (IDGE): University of Denver.

[20] Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG) (Retrieved 2017).

SENG page on Twice Exceptional.

[21] Lind, Sharon (2011) Overexcitability and the gifted.

For Kids

[22] Miss Moore (2009) I Am Gifted. You tube video about gifted traits.

National Association for Gifted Children.

[23] Mensa for Kids (Retrieved 2017). An organization for gifted children that is run by the Mensa program.

[24] Gifted and Talented (Retrieved 2017). A resource for gifted kids to practice math, language arts, science, and other subjects through interactive experiences and games, created by Stanford University.

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