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What Does Giftedness Mean?

Parents often contact us wondering if their child is gifted. It’s easy to understand a parent’s uncertainty in this regard, especially if they have no other children to compare with. Here is some information about giftedness that might be helpful to parents and teachers who need a little more information about identifying gifted, talented, and creative children.

In 1993, the U.S. Department of Education defined giftedness this way: “Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.”

This definition is broad and comprehensive and often used by school districts. It speaks of talent, which includes all areas of a child’s life—academic, artistic, athletic, and social. Most schools limit their definition and their programs to academic elements, but it is important to remember that students can be advanced in many areas of performance, accomplishment, or aptitude.

It is not enough to just have the talent or skill; students must be using that ability at remarkably high levels. This definition recognizes that not all very talented students have the potential to achieve at high levels; some have the ability to do so but have not had the opportunity or circumstance. These students may be underachievers. This definition is a comparative one; these students achieve or have the potential to achieve at levels significantly above their peers.

While gifted students can be as different from each other as they are alike, there are some characteristics of gifted students that may be considered typical:

  • Learns easily
  • Is motivated to pursue personal interests
  • Has good communication skills
  • Has a well-developed memory
  • Displays curiosity and creativity
  • Has an advanced ability to deal with symbol systems
  • Has intense and advanced interests beyond age group
  • Demonstrates advanced reasoning and problem-solving ability
  • Shows social perceptiveness
  • Displays leadership abilities
  • Has sophisticated sense of humor beyond chronological years

Gifted students generally have unusual talents in one or occasionally two areas. Six areas where we might find giftedness are:

  • Creative thinking
  • General intellectual ability
  • Specific academic ability
  • Leadership
  • Psychomotor
  • Visual/Performing Arts

A rare child will be gifted in all six, but some children may be gifted in more than one area. Within specific academic ability, students usually have one or two subjects that they excel in and are passionate about.

Additionally, gifted students sometimes may be different from their age peers socially and/or emotionally. Gifted students tend to demonstrate higher levels of motivation in areas of interest. They are highly curious, seek to question, thrive on complexity, can be highly self-critical, and show strong feelings/opinions. Heightened perceptiveness is also a trait; this tendency often means that gifted students can be more perceptive to social injustice, and exhibit moral outrage at events they consider to be unrighteous.

In a SENG column called “100 Words of Wisdom,” Linda Silverman wrote:

“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble.  Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

With increased knowledge about who gifted children are, we can help them realize and maximize their potential, preparing them for a fully actualized life. 


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