Is My Child Gifted?

Is my child gifted?

Our culture is crazy in the education department. A Gifted and Talented professional will tell you that if your child “shows learning needs” such as:

  • intensity of focus on an area of interest,
  • willingness to forgo social time to pursue talent areas,
  • high levels of perfectionism,
  • extreme sensitivity to right and wrong,
  • early concern for global issues like poverty, war, world hunger, etc.,
  • curiosity, originality, imagination,

your child might be gifted.

Does your child seem over-excitable or intense? Are her abilities developing at an uneven rate? Does he dominate others? Does she show originality, or reveal the ability to handle complexity? Possible giftedness.

“Some children as young as three notice their difference from others, struggle to figure out what that means, hide their abilities in order to conform or rebel by treating others aggressively.” This is a sign of giftedness according to one professional. Children with disabilities are often also gifted, sometimes.

Some official lists of indicators of giftedness have over a hundred items and cover every possible ability from the intellectual to the physical and artistic. Chances are your child will show up with some of these symptoms.

If you talk to a friend, teacher, psychologist, or doctor, they might tell you that you should get your child tested because they might be gifted. If you have the money, go ahead. It is always good for you to know a little more about your child.

Just remember two things (1) you know 1000 times more about your child than the test and (2) you will be essentially engaging in a learning exercise I call: “My child’s not weird, he’s gifted.” It may make you feel better.

But if you want to save your money, I could tell you the same thing without a test. Your child is gifted. I haven’t even met him yet, and I know it’s true.

Our culture is nuts when it comes to education and parenting, and I can prove it. We talk and act as if there are three kinds of kids: gifted, disabled and normal.

There are roughly 55 million school children, and there are only three kinds? If there are 55 million children, there are 55 million kinds of children. Grouping them into subgroups according to a few criteria is arbitrary, if not capricious.

Each child has a unique set of abilities and weaknesses. They all have gifts, they all learn differently, and “normal” is a term borrowed from the medical profession and meaningless in the field of education. The average child doesn’t exist.

But so far I have only proven that our culture is crazy when it comes to education and parenting. There is still the issue of how to behave in this crazy culture. For instance, there might be another reason you want to test your child. If they test positive for giftedness, you might be able to get them out of a “normal” school into a gifted and talented program. In such a program the curriculum would challenge them appropriately with activities that are complex and address multiple intelligences. In such a program each child would be treated as unique. Your child will be challenged more and learn more.

Here’s a crazy idea: what if all schools respected each child’s “intensity of interest,” their “need to be alone,” their passionate pursuits, their perfectionism, their sensitivity to social issues, their concern for global issues, their unusual behavior, their struggle for meaning, the pressure for conformity?

Every child needs a school like this, a school that acts as if each child has a genius, and doesn’t sort out the geniuses.

The field of giftedness has shown us what good education entails. 

Whether or not a child is identified as gifted they all need good education, all teachers need the training, and all references to normal or average need to be abandoned.

All children should be treated as if they are gifted–because they are. This applies even to the children who “don’t stand out,” who don’t “present” as unusual—their genius needs to be noticed. 
In schools and day care centers the only conformity should be conformity to civility.

Come to think of it, if civility were really required at all schools, that would make a huge difference. Isn’t’ respecting each other for their uniqueness at the core of civility? Isn’t civility about loving others as you would love yourself? Doesn’t loving yourself include appreciating the peculiar, weird individual that you are?


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27 thoughts on “Is My Child Gifted?

  1. “All children should be treated as if they are gifted–because they are.” This is the statement that resonates with me and I have held this as a reasonable truth for many years. If teachers and parents would use this maxim as an operating principle, then it’s simply a matter of connecting the child and letting the child connect with those things that are interesting, stimulating, challenging and rewarding – academically, socially, morally, physically, culturally and emotionally. That’s it in a nutshell.

  2. It is by utilizing strategies developed for gifted students (?) that we move away from a deficit model into an enrichment model thereby building upon students’ passions, interests and gifts. We may then gain entrance into their world and help guide and facilitate growth in areas of weaknesses and strengths. We have built a system, or so it seems to me, that is built on exclusion rather than inclusion. As a teacher at a low performing school, I see such incredible potential every day. However, the system is set up to exclude so many of my kids before they are a contributing participant. They can–oh man they can, we just need to meet them at where their strengths lie before we discount them because they can’t…equity is possible. Are we willing?

  3. This philosophy lends itself to the Montessori education! Check out a Montessori school in your area.

  4. Thank you, all. Gifted education is appropriate (even desirable) for all students. No elitism necessary.

  5. This is all great stuff … I agree. Let’s have parents send their children off to whatever kind of school they end in with an understanding of what it means to be a human being, and what it means to think for oneself as well as be open to what others think and feel, and know that ordinary people can and do accomplish great things, and those same people made many mistakes without which they would never have learned what they needed to learn to make the difference they made. Let’s send them off to school knowing that there is nothing taught in school that they cannot learn in half the time if they ask for support, that grades are not a good measurement of learning, ability, or success (but primarily, as my daughter taught me: “it’s the game of school, dad … it’s not hard if you play it that way”). And let’s send them off to school knowing that other children may not have gotten this kind of early education, and that’s when they can make a difference.
    By the way, I loved the discussion on your web blog. The Peters are really insightful, and I guess one of them you can take some credit for, yes? I mean, it’s all him but you provided an environment, yes?

    Yours, Marty

  6. Fabulous article Rick! We visited a GATE classroom and my reaction was exactly what you are saying. I wasn’t so blown away by what I saw there but had the feeling that all classrooms should be like this. There was nothing “special or extraordinary” going on there…just really excellent teaching. Kind if like how school was when I was a kid.

  7. It’s all very well calling all children gifted in their own way. Yes, each child is definitely unique and special. Some learn easily, some need a huge amount of repetition to remember anything. Some have super-scary smart abilities (e.g. can memorise at a young age the entire table of elements including electron orbitals in a week, or can accurately draw an entire map of the world with the names of each country – from memory). Those are the ones who get the gifted label, and yes they are also the ones who have some intense interests and an uptightness that most other people don’t. The gifted label can help parents to understand and better meet the needs of such individuals. It is not arbitrary, it is useful. In the past (early 1800’s), such children were called “precocious” and made to leave their books and go play outside more in order to “cure” them (as illustrated by Charlotte Mason’s writings).
    Gifted people are different from most, don’t get along so well with their age-peers due to the huge differences in cognitive abilities and priorities, find most classroom learning extremely boring and pointless, get told off for reading their (advanced) books after finishing their class work within a quarter of the time everyone else takes; so what would you call them if not gifted? They really do exist, there is no point saying they don’t and lumping them in with everyone else.

  8. Chrissy, I am not saying treat gifted children as if they are normal. I am saying treat all children as if they are gifted. The same things that frustrate gifted students frustrate many others, too. Those who are not frustrated because they learn to play the game of school are missing out on a good education also. Everybody is losing–not just the gifted.
    I agree that gifted education is a great leap forward from education of the 1800’s. In fact the ground they broke of discovering how we ought to educate gifted now needs to be applied to all children.
    I agree that labeling a child gifted is better than labeling them precocious–or misbehaved, or distracted, etc. I am saying that we should take the same concept further–any label is a gross approximation, and we can do better than that. All gifted students are different, and the same applies to all diagnoses.
    ALso, saying that gifted (or any category) are “different from most” does injustices to the gifted and injustice to the “most.”
    No child should be bored, or told off for showing an interest or an ability. Many children have trouble getting along with others because of their differences–working on this should be one of the opportunities that school provides.
    I am not for lumping gifted in with everyone else, I am for seeing children as they really are–unique. lumping together and treating all as if they were the same is what’s wrong, and getting gifted out of the lump–is fine for the gifted, but bad for everyone else.
    You are taking school as a given; let’s get certain kids out of it. I am saying we cannot afford to take schooling as a given. We have to make it work for everyone, and it can. We just have to reframe what education is: i.e leading each child out into the world to function effectively, creatively and gracefully within it. (vs Doing stuff to kids.)

  9. I love the message about each child’s genius, Rick. I wouldn’t agree that gifted programs be the model for all students. I am a parent of a child who has been labeled gifted and attended a charter school for the gifted. The experience was very strongly “academic achievement” oriented and not necessarily geared toward the whole child. See: (In Support of the Whole Child

  10. raising a gifted child is incredibly challenging all around….being gifted is not about elitism.

  11. I understand the sentiment, but disagree with the article. Yes, all kids are special. Yes, all kids deserve an appropriate education. The big “but” is that appropriate differs according to the child. Education that is appropriate for a kid with an IQ of 70 is no more appropriate for a kid with an IQ of 100 than what is appropriate for a kid with an IQ of 130… and vice versa. Depending where you live GATE programs really aren’t enough to meet the gifted kids’ needs anyway.

    I HATE (wish there was a way to emphasize that more) the term “gifted”. It is 100% a misnomer. It’s not a gift, not something that was given to these children. They were born that way. They can’t help that their brains work differently. It is not all positive, happy, happy, joy, joy, look how smart I am elitism. These kids are JUST as different from the norm as kids on the lower end of the IQ scale. If you think that it is simply an issue of elitism, take my kid for a week and then maybe you’ll get it.

    I have a 7 year old who brought home the 7th grade history text for light reading over the summer and is doing his 4th grade social studies over the summer so he can take American History with the 8th graders next school year. This is all of his own accord. He’s never been pushed, in fact I intentionally slow down his work in math and language arts so that he won’t be in college before he’s 10. If you expect a “normal” kid to not only survive, but thrive on the level and pace of work my kid does then you are certifiably insane. Ditto if you expect my kid to survive and thrive in a learning environment that “normal” kids thrive in.

    Yes, all kids are special, but “gifted” as it is used in the school system is a clinical term describing a difference in brain function.

  12. Thank you, all. These are important contributions. I stand corrected on the word “elitism”…not part of the case I am advocating.
    I am advocating for seeing each child as an individual with a uniques set of strengths and weaknesses
    for seeing education as leading each child’s genius out into the world to function creatively, effectively and gracefully within it,
    for seeing education as more than accelerating kids through academic mastery, but creating the conditions in which they develop all of their potential,
    for differentiated instruction,
    for eliminating the use of the word “normal” so that the seven-year-old who is reading a 7th grade text finds ways of learning with and from the child who has trouble reading–since reading and getting through American history is not all that is going on.

  13. I love the idea of differentiated instruction, but as the system stands it would be very hard to implement. What I’d personally like to see is a totally revision of the system. Have all grades K-12 have classes at the same time, for example: Math 1st period, Language Arts 2nd, etc… Call the classes non-leveled names like 123, Addition and Subtraction, etc. Teachers can work at the levels they feel comfortable teaching and stay in one classroom all day.

    The kids will be around different age groups which will help break the same age clique problems. There will be some kids a bit ahead, some a bit behind so the kids can learn to support one another and interact on relatively even ground.

  14. Indeed, Wyldkat. I hired a great teacher once from a one-room-school house who loved it and swore by multi-age grouping. In such an environment, you get the added benefit of the older kids teaching the younger kids. They all learn better that way. Less competition (no common ground for comparison.

  15. When I hear people make comments such as “all children are gifted” and use words such as “elitism” in reference to giftedness, it makes me think they have no direct experience with this cognitive profile.

    As a gifted adult with gifted children I can tell you that it is NOT about elitism but rather about coping with a specific set of challenges. Consider it a sort of diagnosis, if you will.

    Obviously all children are precious, and all deserve the best that education has to offer: This goes without saying. Shame on anyone who implies anything different.

    However some children don’t have typical needs. For example, a downside to giftedness is often a high degree of sensitivity and anxiety. When we put our daughter in play-based daycare meant to help kids learn social skills (which she needed), she was incredibly stressed and posed a HUGE challenge for the teachers. There were tears at every class; she was a very high maintenance little girl.

    Meanwhile she was the only kid out of the 30 of them who could read, write, add, subtract and multiply; part of the reason she was so stressed was because didn’t want to play. She wanted to write stories and read out loud to an adult. She wanted to make up her own math games. When put in a situation of non-gifted kids who were more skilled in age appropriate socialization and interactive play, my daughter quickly figured out how different she was and became isolated. She was lost and miserable.

    And let me be ABUNDANTLY CLEAR about something. I did NOT purposefully accelerate her as a toddler. She was fixated on books from an early age and would chase after me with them. In fact, I enrolled her in sports such as skating and swimming to try and balance out her development. Anyone whose child is actually gifted knows that the differences come from within the child, not from tutoring.

    Is my daughter different, with her own educational needs? Immensely. Is she better than a non-gifted child? Of course not! She has weaknesses like any child. We are ALL equal.

    I could go on and on. The point is, ALL kids have unique needs. Some are kinetic and need a lot of physical activity. Some have advanced social skills and emotional resilience. Some are creative and need artistic outlets to express themselves. Some are born with natural leadership talent and need to direct and mentor their peers. And some, like my daughter, learn very quickly and need extra cognitive challenge to prevent them from being stressed and disconnected.

    Please, do NOT discount giftedness as being real, just because it seems “elitist.” As someone with personal experience I can assure you that this is ridiculous. Giftedness is REAL, and it is NOT “better,” it’s just different.

  16. I think when I said allow all students access to gifted strategies it was misunderstood to mean all students are gifted. My son is “identified” and as is stated above has had issues with finishing his work ahead of others and doing his homework in class, whatever. He was in a gifted cluster and for all intents and purposes should have been accommodated according to his needs, while his peers were identified the teachers were not always able to handle the academic rigor the students needed. It is more complex than I stated. My point was all students can benefit from a more rigorous and varied curriculum. As a GRT I go into all classes in an attempt to find unidentified talent. I see the differences in the instruction. I guess my point was find a childs’ strengths and let’s spend less time focusing on what they cannot do, if I hear one more time what a child can’t do, I think I am going to fly across a room and…perhaps improving upon instruction would be a way to improve upon a child’s ability, as well. I am not bad mouthing teachers; I am one. I just recognize we have to identify what is important. Gary Hirsch, I think he is from MIT, does anlyses on complex systems, Why aren’t leaders in education looking at this type of information to inform decision making? See specifically School Reform — OK, call me crazy, but obviously I am missing something. HELP!

  17. Jamie, sounds like you have a great job: finding what kids can do.
    If you are missing something, I don’t know what it is.

  18. This isn’t fair! Giftedness is not elitist. There are slow, normal, and fast learners. Gifted programs are designed for these faster learners. Giftedness does not make you better or worse than other learners. Yes, standarized testing may be overrated and yes, parents are better idenitifers of their children then any test but giftedness does exist. We can generalize 55 million students into three groups. Of course, each of them is very different but their are three basic groups you can place them into: below average, average, and above average. Once you place a child into one of these groups, you should work one-on-one with the child. The generalization is just to make sure that the educators are moving at the right pace with the child. I think that’s how education should work.

  19. Annie, I went back over what I wrote and can’t find the word “elitist” except for where I apologized for using it. None of this conversation has anything to do with elitism.
    You and I may define education differently, and I suspect you speak for the vast majority. Most schools act as if what you are saying is true.
    I define education as “leading each child’s genius out into the world to function effectively, creatively and gracefully within it.” The result of this kind of schooling is that all children graduate knowing how they learn, and comfortable with their peculiar way of addressing the world. As Lisa says above, this is what good gifted education looks like. I am saying all children benefit from this kind of education. Gifted educators know that no two gifted children are alike and that they each learn differently.
    A normal curve requires one variable you are measuring. The variable you pick is arbitrary; there are literally thousands and thousands of variables worth looking at when it comes to bring out the best in each child.
    Maybe what you have in mind is pacing children through a curriculum with a narrow range of challenges. If this is what you have in mind, you may be right. But the more you broaden the curriculum, the more you discover that someone who is slow mastering one kind of challenge, is fast at mastering another kind of challenge (and opposite for other kids.).
    How do you feel about what Sir Ken Robinson is saying?

  20. You know, it’s true that every child has their own unique gifts and needs. However, this is not the same thing as being gifted.
    As an educator, I truly believed (and still believe) that all students should be taught and treated as unique individuals. However, now that I have expanded my field of expertise to working with the gifted, I now understand just how different they are from the general population. It makes me question whether you have had any real experience with them, as your view of gifted children and their educational needs–seems extremely generalized and shallow.

  21. Rebecca, do we disagree about what gifted kids need?
    In the course of 36 years I was responsible for the education of about 500 gifted and talented students half of whom had been identified as such.

  22. I agree with your idea that all children be able to follow their interests & pursuits in learning and that teachers be partners in that effort. Yes, all children should be treated as gifted (those with gifts to share with the world). Every child should have the opportunity to develop their talents and dreams to the best of their abilities!

    I’ll also agree with the criticism from the above comments. Maybe we need to come up with another term to clarify “gifted” children. Like was said, its not a “gift”. Also truly “gifted” children are not just fast learners (like one comment put it) but are hands-down more advanced thinkers than those in their peer group.

    I, personally, find offense with both the “gifted” term and the idea of “gifted and talented” classes at many schools because most are not truly gifted children. Fast learners are those often moved into those “gifted” classes and when they grow up they’ll struggle with not being able to live up to the label. Then for those truly “gifted”, it is still horrendously difficult to find an appropriate school setting for them to be challenged and advanced in.

    I am high-achieving and was on the “gifted” track through school and was still terribly bored by the tedium. Enough that I finally dropped out of school and went straight on to college. In our family we are all high-achieving with many being card-carrying MENSA members.

    One of my children took his SATs at 7, was a Johns Hopkins Center For Talented Youth scholar ( – for those out there with truly high-achieving children) at 8, took university level math courses at 10, entered the Transition School at the University of Washington at age 13 (, finished all his Jr & Sr High state requirements in one year, graduated High School at 14, and immediately entered college where he earned his degree in Computer Science & Systems BS with a double-minor in Art History & Japanese Linguistics.

    Now how do we convey to people, the school system, the world the depth & breadth of that intelligence versus the “normal” population without using the term “gifted”?

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