Gifted Children

"American education continually tries to help below average, culturally disadvantaged, minority, and physically impaired children become 'more equal.' Promoting equity is a long-standing virtue, and sensibly so. However, a widespead interest in cultivating the talents of our brightest and most talented students--promoting excellence--has been less consistent.

Some fear the gifted education will detract from educating our less capable students. Not true at all. We clearly must attend to students at both ability extremes--along with presenting a quality education of good breadth and depth to our in-between majority."



Who are the gifted children?

The National Association for Gifted Children definition is:

"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)."

The Federal Definition of Gifted and Talented is:

"The term 'gifted and talented,' when used with respect to students, children, or youth, means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities."

The State of Ohio definition is:

"'Gifted' means students who perform or shows potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared to others of their age, experience, or environment and who are identified under division (A), (B), (C), or (D) of section 3324.03 of Ohio Revised Code."

Giftedness vs. Intelligence

These two words do not mean the same thing. Giftedness in schools refers primarily to high general intelligence. This is usually a high IQ score for most schools. One theory states that there is fluid intelligence which is basic mental ability and there is crystallized intelligence which is our accumulated information and knowledge. To compare with this theory, giftedness would then be basic mental ability which helps strengthen that of our crystallized intelligence.



Why Gifted Students? 

From the article, "Are We Failing Gifted Students?" it says:

"First is control -- they need to feel they have the power to change the situation if they're not learning. Second is having a choice in what's taught, so they can have authentic learning with minimal repetition, but often district and state guidelines restrict choice...Third is challenge -- relearning old material isn't challenging. Fourth is complexity -- they want depth to uncover the layers of a concept or idea. The fifth 'C," however, is caring teachers. We've found that this can actually override the other four Cs if they feel their teacher actually cares about them and wants to engage them."

The NAGC estimates there are approximately 3 to 5 million academically gifted students in grades K-12 in the US, approximately 6%-10%.

Gifted children should not be ashamed of themselves and their abilities, and teachers should be careful not to "punish them for being bright." Gifted children are just that. A child's superior intellectual or talent capabilities are a "gift," not only to themselves, but to family and society as well.



Myths about Gifted Students

"Gifted students don't need help. They'll do fine on their own."

Would we send a star athlete to train for the Olympics without a coach? Gifted students need guidance from well-trained teachers who challenge and support them in order to fully develop their abilities. Many gifted students are so far ahead of their same-age peers that they may already know more than half of the curriculum before the school begins. Without challenging these students, boredom and frustration lead to low achievement, despondency, and unhealthy habits. It is a teacher's job to spot and nurture talent in school.

"Teachers challenge all the students, so gifted kids will be find in the regular classroom."

Teachers do try to challenge all students but many are unfamiliar with the needs of gifted children. A study said that 58% of teachers have had no professional development focused on teaching academically advanced students. 73% of teachers agreed that "Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school -- we're not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive." This confirms what families already know: not all teachers are abble to recognize and support gifted learners.

"Gifted students make everyone else in the class smarter by providing a role model or a challenge."

In most cases, average and below-average students don't look up to gifted students as role models. Observing a student who is expecting to succeed does not increase a struggling student's sense of self-confidence. Also, gifted students benefit from classroom interactions with peers who are at similar performance levels. They become bored and frustrated in classrooms with no challenge and can even be ostracized for their giftedness in a classroom.

"All children are gifted."

Each child has strengths and positive attributes, but that does not mean that all children are gifted in the educational sense of the work. "Gifted" in a school setting means that compared to grade-level peers, he or she has an advanced capacity to learn and apply what is learned. Gifted does not mean that one is good or better, but it is a term that allows students to be identified for services that meet their unique learning needs.

"Gifted education programs are elitist."

These programs are meant to help all high-ability students. Gifted learners are found in all cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic groups. However, many of these students are denied the opportunity to maximize their potential because of the way programs and services are funded. With no federal money and few states providing adequate funding, most gifted programs are solely dependent on local funds and parent demand. That means that in spite of the need, often only higher-income districts are able to provide services, giving the appearance of elitism.

"That student can't be gifted. He is receiving poor grades."

Underachievement is a problem in gifted children. The root differs with each student. Gifted students can become bored and frustrated in an unchallenging environment so they can lose interest and distrust the school environment. Also, some mask their abilities to fit in with socially same-age peers. Giftedness is not only in academics and intellectual ability. Giftedness comes in performance arts and creativity as well. It can also be designated in a specific content area.



How do we identify gifted children?

A student can be referred for testing for possible gifted identification by a peer, parent, teacher, other school personnel (like a counselor), community member, or self. 


Students can be identified as gifted in the areas of superior cognitive ability (general intelligence), specific academic ability (reading, math, social studies, and/or science), creative thinking ability, and visual-performing arts ability. 


A child is identified as gifted in the area of superior cognitive ability if they score two standard deviations above the average on an approved intelligence test (like an IQ test) or if they perform at or above the ninety-fifth percentile on an approved nationally normed achievement test.

A child is identified as gifted in any of the specific academic ability areas if they perform at or above the ninety-fifth percentile in that specific ability field on an approved nationally normed achievement test.

A child is identified as gifted in the area of creative thinking ability if they score on standard deviation above the average on an approved intelligence test and also attain a sufficient score on an approved creativity test or checklist of creative behaviors.

A child is identified as gifted in the area of visual-performing arts ability if they are attain a sufficient score on an approved rubric of a demonstrated performance of display of work.




Characteristics of Gifted Children

Gifted children are diverse and do not exhibit all characteristics all of the time. However, here are some common characteristics that many gifted children share:

  • Unusual alertness, even in infancy
  • Rapid learner; puts thoughts together quickly
  • Excellent memory
  • Unusually large vocabulary and complex sentence structure for age
  • Advanced comprehension of word nuances, metaphors, and abstract ideas
  • Enjoys solving problems, especially with numbers and puzzles
  • Often self-taught reading and writing skills as preschooler
  • Deep, intense feelings and reactions
  • Highly sensitive
  • Thinking is abstract, complex, logical, and insightful
  • Idealism and sense of justice at early age
  • Concern with social and political issues and injustices
  • Longer attention span and intense concentration
  • Preoccupied with own thoughts, a daydreamer
  • Learn basic skills quickly and with little practice
  • Asks probing questions
  • Wide range of interests (or extreme focus in one area)
  • Highly developed curiosity
  • Interest in experimenting and doing things differently
  • Puts idea or things together that are not typical
  • Keen and/or unusual sense of humor
  • Desire to organize people/things through games or complex schemas
  • Vivid imaginations (and imaginary playmates when in preschool)

A Mother's Letter to Her Gifted Children

Gifted, Creative, and Highly Sensitive Children

Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities

Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist, developed the Five Overexcitabilities. He observed that not all people move twoards an advanced level of development, but that innate ability/intelligence combined with overexcitability (OE) were predictive of potential for higher-level development.

Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience.

The five areas that Dabroski identified are Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. A person may possess one or more of these.

Psychomotor Overexcitability

Psychomotor OE is a heightened excitability to one's love of movement for its own sake, surplus of energy demonstrated by rapid speech, zealous enthusiasm, intense physical activity, and a need for action. When they are feeling emotionally tense, people with Psychomotore OE may talk compulsively, act impulsively, misbehave and act out, display nervous habits, show intense drive (tending towards "workaholism"), compulsively organize, or become quite competitive. A student with Psychomotor OE may possibly be misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Sensual Overexcitability

Sensual OE is a heightened excitability of sensual pleasure or displeasure emanating from sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. They have an increased and early appreciation of aesthetic pleasures such as music, language, and art, and enjoye tastes, smells, textures, sounds, and sights. This can cause them to feel over stimulated or uncomfortable with sensory input. When emotionally tense, those with Sensual OE may overeat or seek physical sensation of being the center of attraction. Others may withdraw from stimulation and find clothing tags, classroom noise, or smells from the cafeteria so distracting that schoolwork becomes secondary. These children may also become so absorbed in their love of a particular piece of art or music that the outside world ceases to exist.

Intellectual Overexcitability

Intellectual OE is a heightened excitability to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and to analyze and synthesize. They have incredibly active minds and are intensely curious, often avid readers, and usually keen observers. They can concentrate, engage in prolonged intellectual effort, and are tenacious in problem solving when they choose. Also, they enjoy elaborate planning and are remarkable detailed. People with Intellectual OE frequently enjoy theory, thinking aboud thinking, and moral thinking. These people are independent of thought and can sometimes appear critical of and impatient of others who cannot sustain their intellectual pace. They may also become so excited about an idea that they may have a habit to interrupt at inappropriate times.

Imaginational Overexcitability

Imaginational OE is a heightened excitability of the imagination with images and impressions, use of images and metaphor, invention and fantasy, detailed visualization, and elaborate dreams. Often children with high Imaginational OE mix truth with fiction or create private worlds with imaginary companions and dramatizations to escape boredom. Students can find it difficult to pay attention in class and may write stories or draw instead of doing classroom or participating in class discussions.

Emotional Overexcitability

Emotional OE is a heightened excitability with intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification of others' feelings, and strong affective expression. This is usually the first overexcitability to be noticed by parents. There can also be physical responses like stomachaches and blushing, or concern with death and depression. These people have a strong capacity for deep relationships and show strong emotional attachments to people, places, and things. They have compassion, empathy, and sensitivity in relationships. Those with strong Emotional OE are well aware of their own feelings, how they are growing and changing, and often carry inner dialogues and practice self-judgment. Children with high Emotional OE are often accused of "overreacting." Their compassion and ocncern for others, their focus on relationships, and the intensity of their feelings may interfere with everyday tasks like hoemwork.

Perfectionism and Home and Peer Problems

With some gifted students that have very above average IQ scores, they feel different and have problems with both family and peers. Home difficulties could include jealousy and resentment fromt siblings. Also, the gifted child could resist parental authority which can create conflict and stress. In some cases, this can extend to drinking, drugs, delinquency, and even suicide. With many highly gifted students, they can be light-years ahead of age-mates in their educational, philsophic, idealistic, and humanistic concerns and worries. There could be social rejection and a view from others as "weird." 

Gifted students can get easily bored with there is not a challenging gifted program in place for them. Very bright children get bored in a school that is ignoring their academic, psychological, and social needs. The school environment can lead to apathy, feelings of isolation, depression, underachievement, rebelliousness, poor social skills, and poor learning and study skills. According to one estimate, up to 1/4 of all high school dropous are gifted.

A recurrent problem for gifted students is perfections. Normal and healthy perfectionism can help to drive hard work and accomplishments. However, some perfectionism, especially in gifted children, can be very unhealthy. They can feel inadequate, self-critical, weak, ashamed, and doubt their own abilities. They can be overly precise and become obsessive-compulsive workaholics. These chidlren cannot tolerate mistakes or inperfect work and relate their high achievement to self-worth.  

Misdiagnosis and Twice-Exceptionalities of Gifted Children

Many gifted children are misdiagnosed because of characteristics that have to due with their giftedness, not an exceptionality. There are also students who are misdiagnosed and are only sited as gifted and are actually twice-exceptional. 

Many gifted children who are highly active, excitable, and perhaps inattentive (due to class boredom) are misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). To clarify, look for these distinctions: Gifted children usually choose not to turn in work over forgetting. Gifted student question rules and consider them unreasonable instead of being unaware or unable to follow them. Gifted children can be misperceived as aggressive because they try to correct others and/or blurt out answers. Also, they may not complete tasks that are uninteresting and notice that when answers are blurted out, they are usually correct.

Typical behaviors in Asperger's Syndrome include linear and sequential thinking, a strong preference for order and predictability, overextiability, hypersensitivity, reptitive patterns of interest, resistance to change, and in Asperger's Syndrome, intellectual abilities are undamaged and typically fall in the normal to above-average range. To distinguish gifted children, understand these cues: Gifted children have normal friendships with those who share interests, they understand interpersonal situations and emotions of others, their own emotions are appropriate to the topic, they can show sympathy and empathy, they are aware of others' perceptions of them, and can tolerate abrupt routine changes.

Misuses of Gifted Children

There are three common and classic misuses of gifted children in school. First, teachers often have gifted students tutoring struggling students. This is fine for struggling students, but the gifted children are only learning how to tutor other children. Second, because gifted students usually complete their work early, teachers assign grade-level enrichment at best or busy-work at worst to keep them occupied. The third misuse of gifted children is assigning them harder and more work which becomes a punishment for being bright.




Services in Ohio for Gifted Children

In the state of Ohio, each district must adopt a plan to identify gifted children. Gifted students need differentiated curriculum and instruction to fully develop their cognitive, academic, creative, and artistic abilities. All district students who meet the criteria established by the district shall be provided an equal opportunity to receive services.

The Ohio Department of Education does relay options to a gifted program to be placed into a school. However, there are many possible options for a school to choose from.




Resources and Websites

"Gifted Children Gifted Education" by Gary A. Davis

"On the Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Children" by Tracy Cross