Thursday, May 8, 2008

Gifted Identification: When giftedness is the problem

Previously, I've discussed how there can be difficulties in identifying gifted children in a classroom based on several factors. However, giftedness itself can lead to problems in identification. The following list, from Gifted Children Monthly, Feb. 1988, is summarized at this page. I've also added personal notes to the list, showing how teachers often perceive this behavior.

Gifted Traits Can Cause Classroom Problems

High verbal ability, unusually large vocabulary

The child seems older and more mature than he or she is, leading to unrealistic expectations on the part of the teacher; has difficulty developing listening skills; uses this verbal gift to manipulate or dominate others.

Early reading

The child presents problems primary teachers who may not know where to begin to meet the child's language arts development.

A questioning attitude

The child questions authority as well as rules, regulations, and generally accepted facts; teacher may feel threatened, which could result in hostile feelings towards child.

NOTE: Can be viewed as oppositional defiance disorder.

Keen powers of observation

The child sees through sham and pretense; teacher must be secure enough to admit he or she does not know something.

NOTE: Another one for the oppositional defiance disorder checklist.

Long attention span, persistence, intense concentration

The child is unable to go on to a new activity; becomes oblivious to everything and everyone around, sometimes missing explanations, directions or assignments.

NOTE: The behavior can be sometimes mistaken for both autistic spectrum disorders ("rigid thinking", "can't handle transitions", "stuck in his/her own world", etc.) or ADD/ADHD when the child isn't paying attention.

Ability to learn basic skills more quickly and easily, and retain much information with less repetition.

The child resists drill and repetition, becomes impatient with those who do not learn as quickly; devours material almost as fast as the teacher prepares it.

NOTE: When the child resists drill and repetition, many teachers don't understand that the child feels they are wasting their time. They assume the child doesn't know and is actually behind other students. When the resistance becomes too great, labels like oppositional defiance disorder begin showing up.

Wide range of interests

The child leaves activities incomplete.

NOTE: Another ADD/ADHD behavior.

Very narrow interests

The child sticks to things he or she knows or does best, unwilling to risk trying new things; signals perfectionistic tendencies.

NOTE: This is very often misunderstood as the "circumscribed interests" attributed to individuals with autistic spectrum disorders, most often Asperger's Syndrome.

Creativeness, originality, putting ideas and things together in novel ways

The child is seen as being nonconformist or rebellious, even "wierd".

NOTE: Gifted children may try to answer questions creatively, but don't give the "right" answer. The teacher then assumes the child doesn't understand the material. This can be alleviated by probing into the reasons why the child answers the way he or she does.

Unusual, often highly developed sense of humor

The child sees humor in situations that escapes others; sometimes leads to judgements of inappropriateness by others.

NOTE: Another trait often mistaken for autistic spectrum disorders.

Ability to see relationships, make connections

The child makes intuitive leaps which can exasperate teachers who insist on step-by-step procedures.


The child is often overly sensitive, taking minor jokes or teasing too seriously; has feelings easily hurt.

NOTE: This issue is especially difficult for boys, who are expected to not display emotions or reactions to such teasing.

High energy level

The child cannot sit or wait quietly; is impatient; seems to have inherent need to be constantly engaged in activity; becomes bored, sometimes disruptive; can exhaust teacher.

NOTE: This sounds like every child diagnosed with ADHD.


The child has difficulty working with others on group probjects or activities requiring cooperative effort; usually prevers working alone, doing it his or her own way.

NOTE: This can contribute to beliefs that the child suffers from oppositional defiance disorder or autistic spectrum disorders, depending on how the child handles social situations. The same is true of the next point.

A "loner"

The child does not develop appropriate social skills, which leads to more isolation.


Dan Callahan said...

I found your post very interesting. Thanks for the useful info!

Working Mom said...

Thank you so much for your blog. I just read this post. My son fits all or most of these items and the school sees his problem behaviours first, giftedness very much second. Currently we are having issues with defiance, especially with the principal. For some reason he's worse with her than with other staff. Perhaps her commands seem more arbitrary to him, and he is simply questioning authority. Do you have any suggestions? We work with him a lot about not being defiant, but today I got a long email from his principal, detailing his refusal to go outside for the last 10 minutes of recess; then his refusal to accept her consequence, which was to eat lunch in the hall. Thanks for listening!

Anonymous said...

this is bull crap kids shoudnt be judged they should live there lives to the fullest

Anonymous said...

I found your post also very interesting...however, you need to reread it and fix the typos...