There is no one definition of what makes a child gifted, but these remarkable children usually set themselves apart.
He’s the kid who started college at 14. The girl who played the violin as a toddler. The chess master who was 10 years old.
There is no clinical definition of what makes a child gifted, but you usually know it when you see it. Child prodigies are brilliant and talented. They may excel in areas such as leadership or creative thinking. The signs may be apparent when the child is only a toddler. Other times, a child’s special abilities don’t bloom until adolescence.
Despite being gifted, though, this child may not shine in school. In fact, it’s thought that a significant number of gifted children go unrecognized because they have learning disabilities that lead to underachievement. These children are referred to as “twice exceptional.”
Is your child gifted?
Admit it: you think your child is special. What parent doesn’t? But only 3 percent to 6 percent of children in the U.S. fit the bill of being gifted, experts say.
Being gifted seems to have a genetic link, especially in the areas of music and mathematics. Studies show that siblings tend to be within 10 IQ points of each other, too.
Besides their high IQ, children who are gifted may have some of these traits in common:
- Extremely curious and need constant mental stimulation
- Intuitive and a quick learner
- Have an excellent memory along with outstanding language and reading skills
- Tend to be perfectionists who want to explore subjects in depth
- Have a heightened moral sensitivity and concern with social issues
- Emotionally intense and sensitive
- Impatient with themselves and others; often restless
Tests to evaluate giftedness rely on multiple measures and sources beyond an IQ test. The child’s creativity, motivation and talents are assessed. Observations from parents, teachers and interviewers are important, as are examples of the child’s work in and out of school.
A little-known fact about gifted children is that many – some say most – have learning disabilities or attention problems, too. This is known as being “twice exceptional.”
Other children are misdiagnosed with psychiatric disorders when they simply display traits of giftedness. Their high intensity and activity levels are taken for a hyperactivity problem. Or their almost obsessive interests are mistaken for Asperger syndrome. Gifted children are also more vulnerable to sleep disorders and emotional distress.
All the same, most gifted kids are socially well-adjusted and make friends, studies show. In high school, though, it’s not uncommon for gifted teens to try to hide their intellect among peers so they can fit in better.
The gift and the challenge
You don’t usually think of a gifted child as a “special needs” student. Yet, he or she may need the same extra attention, specialists and educational resources as a child who falls behind.
These remarkable kids are easily bored, and may underachieve in a traditional classroom. To develop their mind and talents, they often need services and activities not offered in most schools. Here, a school counselor or health professional with a background in giftedness can talk to parents about the options available to their child.
At times the school can accommodate the child’s needs with honors classes, or let the child skip a grade. Other parents choose to home-school their child or enroll him or her in college classes on the side. There are also special schools for gifted kids as well as summer enrichment programs.
Experts say the best thing parents and teachers can do is to keep the child focused on the excitement of learning, not on exceptional performance. And like all kids, they will thrive and blossom most with a supportive family who loves and accepts who they are – quirks and all.