Gifted Children

Schools and parents can have difficulty understanding and accommodating a child's special needs

How can you tell?

There are many misconceptions about giftedness making identification difficult and misdiagnosis relatively common among gifted children (and adults). Identifying strong learners is an ‘easy’ way to start. However, this usually only captures those students who fit the popular stereotype of being gifted (i.e., high achievers). These children generally do not pose many problems for school and though important to identify them for several reasons, they are likely already being supported in some important ways (e.g., being presented extra challenges). Moreover, high achievers are not necessarily gifted, and underachievement is actually quite common among gifted students.

Screening for giftedness is not common in schools, and usually little is known among teachers about identifying characteristics. Many possible factors can obscure the gifted child in the classroom (and at home) but this has much to do with expectations from the environment and lack of knowledge and understanding about giftedness. Often, children present more challenging behaviour as well as emotional and learning issues, thus requiring appropriate support for school and outside.

Early identification is crucial to facilitate the timely support necessary to prevent issues in emotional well-being, psychological distress, (further) learning difficulties, behavioural challenges.


Gifted, asynchronous learners are often misunderstood. Their excitement is viewed as excessive, their high energy as hyperactivity, their persistence as nagging, their questioning as undermining authority, their imagination as not paying attention, their passion as being disruptive, their strong emotions and sensitivity as immaturity, their creativity and self-directedness as oppositional.
Susan Daniels, PhD & Michael Piechowski, PhD

Authors & Gifted Specialists

Characteristics of Gifted Children

  • Reasons well (good thinker)
  • Learns rapidly
  • Has extensive vocabulary
  • Has an excellent memory
  • Has a long attention span
  • Is sensitive (feelings hurt easily)
  • Shows compassion
  • Is perfectionistic
  • Is intense
  • Is morally sensitive
  • Has strong curiosity
  • Is perseverant when interested
  • Has high degree of energy
  • Prefers older companions/adults
  • Has a wide range of interests
  • Has a great sense of humor
  • Is an early or avid reader
  • Is concerned with justice, fairness
  • Has judgment mature for age at times
  • Is a keen observer
  • Has a vivid imagination
  • Is highly creative
  • Tends to question authority
  • Shows ability with numbers
  • Is good at jigsaw puzzles
  • Is an independent learner

Misunderstood and Misdiagnosis

Gifted children (and adults) are referred to health care professionals more often for behavioural problems than that they are for identification and understanding of their giftedness. Some common characteristics, when not understood in the context of giftedness, can easily lead to such referrals, where they are often subsequently misunderstood and misdiagnosed as behaviour disorders. Examples are the drive to use one’s abilities; the drive to understand, to search for consistency; the ability to see possibilities and alternatives; emotional intensity (e.g., focus, intrinsic motivation, and persistence); concern with social and moral issues (e.g., idealism and sensitivity); and different rates or levels of physical and emotional development. Where these characteristics/behaviours in and of themselves do not necessarily need to pose a problem for the gifted, the interaction of the characteristics with the attitudes and expectations in their environment often do. Some common misdiagnoses among the gifted are Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADD/ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Existential Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Bipolar Disorder. Though it is possible to have dual diagnoses, i.e., being gifted and having ADD, it is important to differentiate in order to avoid pathologising when in fact, behaviours may be normal in the context of giftedness.

Moreover, learning impairments may also influence proper identification and needed support. These children are called twice exceptional, or 2e, which refers to the notion that one is gifted but also has a learning disability, learning disorder, attention difficulties or simply another learning style. An example thereof is the visual-spatial learner, a learning style that is predominantly visual-spatial (for example a picture thinker and holistic learner) as opposed to auditory sequential (e.g., strong auditory learning and sequential in learning) which is generally the way schools teach. 

Twice exceptional learners are particularly vulnerable in school systems because they often don’t get recognised as either; gifted or with a learning challenge, as their strengths and weaknesses appear to cancel each other out. As a result, 2e children don’t receive the support that they need. Apart from implications for school ‘success’, this can also have deep implications for their long-term psychological well-being, their confidence, and their sense of self. Even if learning disabilities are recognised, the lack of attention for the gifted side seriously under-addresses the special needs of twice exceptional learners.

Many of our brightest, most creative, most independent thinking children and adults are being incorrectly diagnosed as having behavioural, emotional, or mental disorders. Characterisitics and behaviours that are better explained by giftedness are wrongly attributed to pathology and disorder. […] The tragedy for these mistakenly diagnosed children and adults is that they receive stigmatizing labels that harm their sense of self and result in treatment that is both unnecessary and even harmful to them, their families, and society.
James Webb, PhD.

Author & Gifted Specialist

Gifted children take in information from the world around them; they react and respond to it more quickly and intensely than other children. They are stimulated both by what is going on around them and by what moves them from within.
Susan Daniels, PhD & Michael Piechowski, PhD

Authors & Gifted Specialists

Your child has a lot of characteristics associated with giftedness.

The natural trajectory of giftedness in childhood is not a six-figure salary, perfect happiness and a guaranteed place in Who’s Who.

It’s the deepening of the personality, the strengthening of one’s value system, the creation of greater and greater challenges for oneself, and the development of broader avenues for expressing compassion.

Linda Silverman, PhD

Author & Gifted Specialist

Knowing for sure. And then what?

To find out for sure, your child will need to be assessed. It is important to keep in mind however, that sometimes, for a number of reasons, gifted children don’t do well on assessment tests. It is therefore not only important to do an IQ test, which is an excellent starting point, but also to gain a better understanding of a child through more general assessment, charting behavioural context, sharing family histories and building a relationship with your child.

Establishing your child’s intelligence profile is the first step. It is then that the real work begins: in finding suitable challenge, in advocacy, in support for their different learning styles and special needs, helping them find developmental peers and make meaningful connections. Schools (teachers) can have a difficulty understanding and accommodating your child’s needs. But parenting a gifted child can be quite challenging as well. It is with these issues that I can support you and your child.

Get in touch with me and we can discuss your child’s needs and see how I can help your family.

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm.  This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity.  The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.
The Columbus Group, 1991