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5 Reasons Identifying Gifted Kids Can Be Tricky

by Gloria Van Donge

Identifying gifted kids can be hard, but recognizing their giftedness is important.

Like all children, gifted kids need to have their gifts nurtured in order to maximize their potential and develop into healthy, productive adults. Unfortunately, most people only think of child prodigies when they think of the gifted. Identifying gifted kids can be challenging, despite the fact that there are some fundamental hallmark characteristics of giftedness that adults should be on the lookout for. But first, let’s take a look at five reasons gifted children can be hard to find.

1. Many gifted children look for a place to belong, a place where they fit in and feel accepted.

These kids work out how they resemble others and how they differ from them at a younger age than their peers, often when they’re only about four to five years old. This level of social awareness can lead gifted children to think that they’re weird or that there’s something wrong with them. For some, the solution is to camouflage their behavior in order to fit in with others, and in many instances, this means dumbing down so they don’t stand out from the crowd. They might change how they speak or how they dress to be like their more popular peers. Sometimes they even deliberately do poorly on their schoolwork to try to fit in. Some are so successful at becoming chameleon-like that teachers need to become detectives, looking for cues of their true identity.

2. Although gifted children can share similar characteristics, they can be as different from one another as they are similar.

There are different ways to be gifted, including intellectually, imaginationally, sensually, emotionally, and physically. Some children are gifted in one area, some in two or more, some in many, and that means they don’t all demonstrate the same abilities or talents. In addition, there are different levels of giftedness, from two standard deviations above the norm to several above. And of course, every child has a different personality. Some gifted children are voracious consumers, full of energy, processing information at a rapid pace. Others like to think deeply, finding unusual connections and effortlessly engaging in adult conversation. Their uniqueness only increases the difficulty of finding them because they don’t all demonstrate the same patterns of behavior.

3. Gifted children develop unevenly.

This is called asynchronous development, and it occurs when a child’s chronological age isn’t aligned with that child’s mental, emotional, or intellectual age. For example, an eight-year-old gifted child may play chess like a thirteen-year-old but act like a six-year-old when learning to ride a bike. This is internal asynchrony. External asynchrony happens when gifted children are out of sync with their peers, with different approaches to play, friendship, and learning. This asynchronous development should be an indicator of giftedness to adults, but often it is missed.

4. Gifted children can be hard to find if they are twice-exceptional, or 2e.

Twice-exceptionality means that the child’s giftedness is coupled with a disability or disorder such as dyslexia, auditory processing weakness, attention deficits, and more. What often happens is that the disability can mask the giftedness, pulling the child’s accomplishments down to “average” levels. Conversely, the child’s high ability can be enough to overcome some aspects of the disability, leaving the child preforming at adequate but uneven levels. This can be confusing for adults—and for the child as well.

5. Gifted children may be hard to find when they don’t meet our expectations.

Some adults assume that all gifted children will shine academically, achieving straight A’s. They may also assume that, because gifted children are so smart, they don’t need scaffolding and support on their educational journey. Research shows that teachers regularly appraise children’s intelligence by the quality of their participation in new activities. However, many gifted children are cautious, waiting to see what a task is like before committing themselves.

Identifying gifted kids at an early age is important

Early detection is vital for gifted children to avoid the pitfalls of disengagement, boredom, depression, and underachievement.

A one-size-fits-all approach not only will fail to identify gifted kids; it also is unlikely to meet their needs. As a rule of thumb, gifted children are advanced in at least one area and tend to be highly sensitive in some ways. They also generally exhibit uneven, asynchronous development, whether internally or externally or both. Adults need to be aware of these traits and should do some digging if they suspect a gifted child on their hands because these children need appropriate support for their curiosity, their love of learning, and their creativity. They may be gifted, but they are children first, and they must be given the tools to feel good about themselves for who they are, to succeed, and to thrive.

The Cheetah Stories Can Help Gifted Kids

Gloria Van Donge grew up when the topic of giftedness did not even rate a mention in educational circles. It was only in her retirement years that she realized she was probably a gifted child. Fortunately today, educators are more aware of gifted children and their unique needs, yet it’s still possible for gifted children to go undetected—and they often do. Gloria is the author of The Cheetah Stories, a set of five picture books specially designed for gifted children to read about characters “just like them.”

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