Gifted Traits: a Quick Introduction

Are you wondering if your child is gifted and talented? Let’s explore what traits are commonly associated with being gifted and talented.

Intensity: The primary feature of giftedness is intensity. They are intense kids who intensely experience the world. They are often ‘busy little bees’ and do not stop to eat or even sleep. Parents may be unable to get them to take naps or bed on time. They are intensely curious. 

Appetite for learning: 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. Gifted kids tend to love reading. They are often confused about why others may tune out or disengage while hearing about their amazing discoveries. 

Sensitivity: Gifted kids tend to be sensitive, both emotionally and to their surroundings. They may become inconsolable when something terrible happens to a friend, stranger, or someone on the news. 

Creativity: They are highly creative and imaginative. Gifted kids 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. 

Understanding quickly: Gifted students tend to learn 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. 

When working with students who are GT, I notice that they are very deep. They understand the world in a profound way. Sometimes, my heart breaks a little when I observe them in class because their teacher or classmates do not always understand them. Emotionally, they are very aware of their feelings, their internal process, and the subtle feelings of others. 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.” – Hannah Larson, Licensed Professional Counselor

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Myths About Gifted Identification

Giftedness is a misunderstood term. To truly understand giftedness, let’s clarify a few quick points. Let’s start by understanding what giftedness is not

Myth #1: Gifted means ‘better’

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. 

Myth #2: Every student has ‘gifts’, so it’s impossible to classify

Of course, each child indeed brings their own gifts to the world. However, the term ‘giftedness,’ which has legal protections and special programming, has a set of definitions and criteria for assessments. 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 a student as gifted, school programs can consider multiple areas of potential giftedness. 

Categories of gifted identification

…general or specific intellectual ability

creative or productive thinking

leadership abilities

specific academic aptitude

specific talent aptitude

visual arts, performing arts

motor abilities

These are all categories under which students can be identified [10]. However, in real life, parents will most often see a child identified under one of these: general intellectual ability, language arts, math, or science. 

Myth #3: Giftedness is not a real thing. An IQ test is meaningless

Finally, it is important to understand that giftedness is a real thing. Although intelligence tests get a bad rap, they can identify true brain differences. Children who score exceptionally high on these tests have an actual brain difference. It does not mean that their brains are better. It genuinely means that something is exceptional about how they think and learn.

Body of evidence

An IQ test is not the only method of determining whether a child is gifted or talented. The 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 identify students initially. Often, all students complete a test in second or third grade to screen for giftedness. 

Gifted IQ scores

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. 

The talent pool

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 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.

Legal definitions of Gifted and Talented

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 the 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]

Myth #4: Kids with disabilities are not gifted

One confusing aspect of gifted identification is that kids do not tend to be ‘gifted’ in all areas. As a school psychologist, I always found it difficult to explain to parents and teachers that there can be extreme strengths and weaknesses in a child’s cognitive profile. This is especially true when you have a gifted child who also has a developmental disability.

Twice exceptional (2E) and multi-exceptional

Kids with disabilities can also be identified as 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”.

Gifted with ADHD: 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 difficulty planning and organizing, sitting still in class, and turning assignments in on time. 

Gifted with Autism: A child with autism and giftedness in mathematics may have extreme difficulties with writing. Gifted autistic children tend to become quickly and easily frustrated by the format and repetition of classroom lessons. They want to explore topics all the way to mastery, and find it aversive to shift back to more mundane subjects. As a school psychologist, I often found the gifted autistic kids staying at one center during center time and refusing to leave for the next center. They were highly engaged, so much so that they would hate to switch gears.

Often, the traits of giftedness contribute to a bit of a social delay. The child may be inclined to ignore others’ 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. 

Layering effects of twice-exceptional: 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.”

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Seven Gifted Traits

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.

1. 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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.

4. 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. When these triple traits of intensity, perfectionism, and divergent thinking are combined, these children often make great leaders. 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.

5. Causes and conscience

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. Almost every gifted kid I have met has a cause they promote or a desire to see a big change in the world. 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.

6. 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. 

7. 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. 

Asleep at the wheel: 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.” Alternatively, children may perform so well that they achieve higher and higher levels of status, working alongside peers who are much older or more experienced. 

Imposter syndrome: 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. 

Depression: 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. 

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Intervention and Support for Gifted Students

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. 

Advanced learning plans

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. These ALP’s generally include both an academic goal and an ‘affective’ (social-emotional) goal. Although these plans are helpful processes, they are often insufficient.

Gifted programs

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. 

Gifted extensions

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. 

Extensions with financial support

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 to 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.

Tests for Giftedness

Giftedness is generally determined through a body of evidence that allows for multiple paths where children can display their gifted aptitudes.

Cognitive. At schools, screening instruments are often used, such as the Naglieri Non-Verbal Ability Test. This test is a valid measure and can be administered to a large group of students at a time via computer. Another popular instrument is the Cognitive Ability Test (CogAT). This can also be administered in small groups to get a quick snapshot of intellectual ability. The most predictive and reliable measure of IQ is through one of the following individually administered IQ tests, such as:

  • Wechsler Intelligence Scales for Children
  • Differential Ability Scales
  • Stanford Binet 
  • Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children

Achievement. Most programs require both an IQ test and an achievement test. Achievement tests are measures of learning or academic knowledge. Schools may use the standardized tests that they give each year (remember the tests we used to do with the little bubbles), such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Again, the most predictive and reliable measure of achievement comes from one of the following achievement tests individually administered by a trained clinician, such as: 

  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test
  • Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement

Creativity. Creativity might include gifted abilities represented in art projects, presentations, or inventions. Generally, students are required to submit a representative piece of their art or creative project. The piece must be submitted with an application, a letter or recommendation of the art teacher, and a reflection sheet. A norm or criterion referenced test is required where the student is expected to score at the 95th percentile or above. Students may also show creativity through state or national contests and events.

Where to Get Help for Gifted Students

  • GT coordinator: Most schools or school districts have a person who is assigned the GT Coordinator position, which means that they are responsible for identifying students and making sure their gifted needs are appropriately addressed.
  • School counselor: As previously mentioned, gifted kids may feel ostracized and alone in their unique profile of talents and abilities. They may benefit from camaraderie with other gifted students. A gifted lunch bunch or ‘Gifted Discussion Group’ (Terry Bradley) [15] may be very helpful. School counselors can also help students navigate their intense feelings, sensitivities, and social challenges.
  • School psychologist: School psychologists can be a great resource for gifted kids. They may have special expertise in giftedness and may have access to resources. Some school psychologists have social groups for gifted students as well.
  • Psychologist: An evaluation by a psychologist may be useful. Psychologists can administer IQ tests and may determine whether or not your child is gifted. They also can identify comorbid issues with anxiety, depression, social skills, or academic concerns. They can also conduct therapy for treatment of such concerns.
  • Parent groups: Most districts have SENG (Social Emotional Needs of Gifted) groups [20]. This program is for parents of gifted students and is generally run by either a teacher with special expertise in giftedness or another parent with such experience. A wealth of great articles is available on the SENG website, and the groups typically discuss one of these articles during each session.

Outcomes for gifted students

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. 

Levels of Gifted and Profoundly Gifted

Gifted children tend to have an IQ in the 130-140 range.

They generally 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 have an IQ in the 140-160 range.

They are generally not going to benefit from the typical classroom and will require gifted programs [16]. They may prefer 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 have an IQ of 160+.

They 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.

Learn More About Gifted Children

Dr. Anna Kroncke and Dr. Marcy Willard have assembled a video series on a wide variety of areas of childhood disability and development. Participants are guided through a step-by-step process of understanding and supporting children with unique needs. 

Your Next Step

Take a quick assessment on app.cadey.co to understand your child’s needs. We are pioneering new ground in child psychology. Instead of waiting months or years, you can help your child today. To get started on life-changing interventions, visit courses.cadey.co.

Resources for gifted children and families

Books for gifted children and families

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

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Autonomous-Learner-Model-Resource-Book/dp/1618215981/

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

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Dumbing-Down-America-Nations-Brightest/dp/1618211668/

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

Amazon: 

https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0910707774/thehoagiesgifted/

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

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Survival-Guide-Gifted-Kids-Under/dp/1575424487/

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

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Gifted-Teen-Survival-Guide-Anything/dp/1575423812/

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

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Multiple-Intelligences-Horizons-Theory-Practice/dp/0465047688/

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

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0065KVEGS/  

[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. https://www.amazon.com/Systems-Models-Developing-Programs-Talented/

[9] Rivero, Lisa (2010).  A parent’s guide to gifted teens: Living with intense and creative adolescents. https://www.amazon.com/Parents-Guide-Gifted-Teens-Adolescents/dp/B010EUTILC/

On-line accessible articles for gifted children and families

[10] Colorado Department of Education: Office of Gifted Education (2016). Gifted identification. CDE: http://www.cde.state.co.us/gt/giftedidentification

[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:  http://yellowscene.com/2011/08/19/beam-me-up-a-case-for-the-talented-and-gifted/

And for gifted traits: http://yellowscene.com/2011/08/19/characteristics-of-giftedness/

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

http://www.nagc.org/sites/default/files/Position%20Statement/Redefining%20Giftedness%20for%20a%20New%20Century.pdf

[13] Sword, Lesley Kay (2011). Emotional intensity in gifted children. http://sengifted.org/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. http://www.giftedguru.com/about/

Other resources and websites for gifted children and families

[15] Bradley, Terry (Retrieved 2017). Terry Bradley – Gifted Education: Specializing in the emotional needs of gifted education. http://terrybradleygifted.com/gifted-articles-terry-bradley/

[16] Colorado Association of Gifted and Talented (CAGT) (Retrieved 2017): http://www.coloradogifted.org/

And for the gifted spectrum: http://www.coloradogifted.org/glossary.html

[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. http://www.du.edu/idge/conference/past.html

[18] Hoagies Gifted Education Page (Retrieved 2017): http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/

[19] Institute for the Development of Gifted Education (IDGE): University of Denver. http://www.du.edu/idge/

[20] Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG) (Retrieved 2017). http://sengifted.org/

SENG page on Twice Exceptional: http://sengifted.org/resources/articles-twice-exceptionality/

[21] Lind, Sharon (2011) Overexcitability and the gifted. http://sengifted.org/overexcitability-and-the-gifted/ 

Books and resources for gifted children

[22] Miss Moore (2009) I Am Gifted. Youtube video about gifted traits. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omx_iLtMjZA

National Association for Gifted Children: https://www.nagc.org/

[23] Mensa for Kids (Retrieved 2017). An organization for gifted children that is run by the Mensa program. http://www.mensaforkids.org/

[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. https://giftedandtalented.com/

Your Next Step

Take a quick assessment on app.cadey.co to understand your child’s needs. We are pioneering new ground in child psychology. Instead of waiting months or years, you can help your child today. To get started on life-changing interventions, visit courses.cadey.co.