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

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

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?

From "Gifted Children" by Ellen Winner

"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."

The IQ test is currently the most societally 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?

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

Understand the harm and benefit in everything.

          -- From the "Book of Five Rings" as translated by Thomas Cleary

Children's needs are best met by grown-ups whose needs are met.

          -- Jean Clarke

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 purproses 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, et. al.

"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 Marland 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

We are all prisoners of our childhood, whether we know it, suspect it, deny it, or have never even heard about the possibility.

          -- Alice Miller

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

The mistreatment of children is not the inevitable fate of humankind ... The prevention of child abuse is possible with greater public awareness.

          -- Alice Miller

Why the "moral" argument? Because those who oppose the identification of gifted children usually take the "moral highground" 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 accomodate 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.

Interlude: Handbag Audit (mother of gifted toddler)

Plastic bags (zippered) for bug collection.

Six lumps rose quartz.

Crayons, assorted colors.

Scrap paper airplanes, assorted designs.

Glue stick, for paper airplanes.

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:

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

Interlude: A Success Story

J.B. was about 18 months old when we had to change doctors. We ended up changing doctors again in short order.

Why? Would you trust a doctor who goes looking for potato chips in YOUR ears? Especially when you know YOU didn't put them there?

Fortunately, that practice had another doctor whom J.B. loved for his gentle, respectful manner, even with children.

Eventually, it was this doctor who convinced us that our children were intellectually gifted and had unique developmental needs.

Over the years, our family doctor has been a source of information and encouragement -- reminding us that gifted children are children first and foremost. Not every behavior or quirk of personality is due to the child's IQ. "Sometimes," he says, "they're just kids."

It helps to have a knowledgeable professional on your side. It's even better when that professional is a grown-up gifted kid.

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

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

Comparison of Bright vs Gifted

Bright Child            Gifted Child
Knows the answers.      Asks the questions.

Interested.             Extremely curious.

Pays attention.         Gets involved physically 
                        and mentally.

Works hard.             Plays around, still gets
                        good test scores.

Answers questions.      Questions the answers. 
Enjoys same-age         Prefers adults or older 
peers.                  children.

Good at memorization.   Good at guessing.

Learns easily.          Bored. Already knew the 

Listens well.           Shows strong feelings 
                        and opinions.

Self-satisfied.         Highly critical of self 

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 war)

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:

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


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 nextdoor 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.

Last Updated: 20 April 2001
This webpage is maintained by Kit Finn (