Guide on Identifying Gifted Children

Identifying a gifted child is a difficult process that requires the effort of both educators and parents alike. In many cases, parents are the first to notice if their child is performing a little ahead of schedule in their development. Maybe the child learns to read or write faster than the kids around them, or maybe they just have an exceptional ability to learn new tasks. Whatever the case, it leaves parents curious as to whether their child might be gifted.

Educators and schools are the next to identify giftedness in students. Educators may pick up on some of the same signs that parents do, but schools may also employ testing that’s designed to identify potentially gifted children. As a result, identifying giftedness is not a single process. Instead, it’s the combined effort of many people coming together to piece together different types of evidence that indicate giftedness. Here is how that process occurs in greater detail.

What is a Gifted Child?

The National Association for Gifted Children defines giftedness as simply children demonstrating abilities significantly above average when compared against their peers. These abilities may be demonstrated in different areas ranging from leadership to intellect or artistic ability. Sometimes, these gifted children manifest incredible aptitude in a specific area like math or science.

The definition National Society for the Gifted and Talented doesn’t differ much and includes talent, performance, and accomplishments. The Society also emphasizes that giftedness can encompass numerous domains, ranging from the academic to the artistic. However, one additional point of emphasis is that giftedness requires more than just talent. Instead, giftedness refers to children who both have talent and the ability to use that talent at a notably high level.

This isn’t to say that gifted children don’t sometimes underachieve. Due to a variety of circumstances, students with the talent to be considered gifted may at times fail to live up to their potential. While giftedness requires the ability to draw upon talent and perform at a high level, the Society recognizes that many circumstances do negatively impact performance. Consequently, there are times when it’s important to identify and nurture this talent to determine to what degree talented students can perform.

A prime example of how environment may sometimes negatively impact performance can be seen among underserved populations. Parts of the student population may be hindered because their school lacks resources, teacher turnover is high, or because the environment is unsafe for one reason or another. This creates conditions in which it is hard for even the most talented of students to maximize their potential, and their performance may not suggest they are actually gifted.

It’s incumbent upon educators and school staff to provide all students with the highest quality education possible, which includes identifying particularly gifted students and finding ways of guiding them toward programs that will help them reach their maximum potential.

How Many Gifted Children Are There?

It’s difficult to gauge just how many kids in the country may actually be gifted. After all, there are many ways in which a child may be gifted. A guideline used by the National Association for Gifted Children suggests that children who perform in the top 10% of a specific domain may often be considered gifted.

Research suggests that there is a similar percentage of gifted children among students who are disabled. Roughly one in 10 children with disabilities are gifted. Unfortunately, they are often harder to diagnose than their peers who have no disabilities. This makes it all the more important to be rigorous when testing for giftedness among students.

Despite the difficulties associated with identifying giftedness, according to a report from Purdue University’s Gifted Education Research and Resource Institute, GER2I, in 2019 there were as many as 3.6 million gifted children in the United States.

Although it seems that there aren’t likely many gifted children in the entire school going population, there is a chance that some gifted children may be under identified. This may be, as previously noted, because they aren’t high achievers due to their environment or lack of study skills. They may have all the talent necessary to perform at levels far beyond their peers but lack the training.

Sometimes kids may actually underperform in school and demonstrate qualities that indicate that they have learning disabilities or simply lack the aptitude for learning at the same pace as their peers. However, upon testing, they may demonstrate exceptional skill. This shows how difficult it is to gauge the number of gifted children since so many go unrecognized.

Identifying Giftedness

General Guidelines

The National Society for the Gifted and Talented suggests that there are three ways in which giftedness manifests.

Talent – Students can have the raw talent to overperform in one or more domains. The National Association for Gifted Children specifies five domains where children may demonstrate their talent: intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership, and academic domains.

Performance – Students should demonstrate the ability to draw upon their raw talent to perform at impressive levels in one or more domains.

Comparative – Students should have their performance compared against their peers to reveal whether that performance is significantly better than other students.

While these are three general means by which giftedness can be identified, there are also relatively concrete ways by which giftedness can be identified.

Behavioral Checklists

Gifted children often demonstrate several signs and behaviors that are associated with being gifted. Gifted children are often perfectionists who have a heightened sensitivity regarding expectations of them. This combination means they will often attempt to perform at a high level and feel as if they have let others down when they fail to meet expectations. As a result, they may feel they have failed if they get anything less than an “A” grade for their work.

A clear behavior that distinguishes gifted children is their propensity for learning their lessons and curriculum before their peers, often placing them far ahead of their peers when it comes to learning. These children are more aggressive in seeking out answers and are typically problem solvers. However, though they demonstrate behavioral traits that are often different from their peers, they also learn in many different ways, just like other children. As such, it’s important not to discount some children as gifted simply because they prefer certain learning styles.


Since performance compared to their peers is an important way of gauging whether a child is gifted or not, it should be no surprise that giftedness is partly determined through testing. Achievement tests often generate that data from which giftedness is first recognized. These tests may be specific to subjects, like math or science. However, standardized tests such as the SAT may also help teachers identify giftedness. When students outperform their peers to a significant degree on these tests, it’s often a sure sign that a student is gifted.

However, besides achievement tests, there are also ability tests that students can take that may reveal giftedness. These tests include IQ tests, the Stanford Binet test, and the Wescher Intelligence Scale for Children test. These are only a few of the tests that students may take. There are even nonverbal tests that can be used whenever a student is gifted but isn’t linguistically skilled. For instance, students from different cultures may be incredibly gifted but lack skills in the English language that would help them perform to their full potential on standard, heavily verbal tests. In these cases, nonverbal tests are preferable.

A very specific form of identifying giftedness is known as dual exceptionality identification. This form of identification is used whenever giftedness is present in a child who has a disability.

Children with a learning disability, such as dyslexia, may nevertheless be exceptionally intelligent. Dual exceptional identification asks teachers and school administrators to identify this talent among those who are disabled.

Kids who have a disability and also gifted often demonstrate extreme skill in one area while also lagging behind in a separate domain. For instance, a child may demonstrate advanced logical reasoning skills but struggle with writing. This may indicate extreme intelligence but also the presence of a learning disability.

Parents and educators should be on the watch for kids who demonstrate such behaviors, since it indicates that they may be able to tap into their incredible potential after receiving the support needed to help them overcome their disability.

Schools often have screening programs that are used to identify gifted children. These programs use a group testing method to compare performance between students and identify students who are particularly outstanding performers.

Typically, testing for giftedness cannot be done too early. Experts agree, for the most part, that testing before the age of six is too early to truly identify giftedness. Even when younger children are tested, alternative measurements are used to gauge whether the child is truly gifted. As such, there is no one universal test that will be used in all cases to gauge whether a student is gifted or not.

When tests are conducted, the results are interpreted according to different metrics. The student’s raw score is taken into account, and then they’re graded into percentile ranks, which essentially means their performance is compared against the performance of others in their grade level. These tests are based on recent performance across the country, not data from decades ago, to ensure that the student’s performance is impressive according to current standards.

However, local demographics are also important when identifying giftedness, since some populations may generally underperform when compared against nationwide statistics. However, even within that underperforming population, specific students may stand out because their performance is impressive when compared against their local peers.

Is a Child Gifted?

Given how easy it is for gifted students to go missed and the many types of assessments that may gauge them as gifted, it should be no surprise that it can be hard to recognize a gifted child just from day to day interactions. Both teachers and parents fail to identify gifted children all the time.

The difficulty in assessing whether a child is gifted is also complicated by the fact that children can be gifted in so many different domains.

However, there are some things to keep in mind that may help identify a potentially gifted child. Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. David Palmer noted that there are several traits that both teachers and parents will want to watch for in kids.

Many gifted children developed language skills earlier than their peers, which parents may identify. Once these children get into kindergarten, their vocabulary may already be highly developed, they may speak in more complex sentences, and they may be able to read more advanced materials than their peers. Alert educators may notice these advanced language skills and recommend these children for gifted and talented programs.

Another way that suggests a student may be gifted is that they learn quickly when compared against their peers. Gifted children may be natural learners who learn quickly. They are often willing to ask questions that help them explore a topic in greater depth and show greater insights into a topic.

Gifted children also often need the least direction when engaging in new activities. They may show little need for direction with those activities. Finally, parents will want to keep an eye out for how early their children develop motor skills.

Gifted children often demonstrate advanced motor skills earlier and show an ability to assemble structures and put puzzles together before kids of comparable age.

Finally, both parents and teachers should be on the lookout for children who have more energy than their peers. Kids who are constantly asking questions, exploring new topics, and talking about things may be gifted. They may be able to put together information more quickly, which is why they speak more quickly. These kids will piece together related information, become curious, and ask about those topics. Because these kids grasp topics more easily, they’ll often take the lead when among other kids and even help their peers to get tasks done more quickly.


Clearly, identifying giftedness is not a simple process. Children may have the talent to be qualified as gifted, but due to various circumstances, they may not demonstrate that talent in their schooling.

A lack of resources or even disabilities may lead to underperformance, and only significant testing may reveal that they have the potential to vastly outperform their peers.

It’s up to parents and educators to come together in a combined effort to use observations and test results to identify gifted children before their potential goes untapped.

Other Gifted Education Articles:
Gifted Education Forms and Approaches
How to Homeschool Gifted Kids
Pros and Cons of Gifted Learning Programs in Schools

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