What exactly is a gifted child?
The term "gifted" has different meanings. Some schools and organizations use it strictly to designate people with well above-average intelligence, while others adopt a wider range of criteria. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, "gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10 percent or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports)."
If you're wondering whether your child is gifted, it helps to know what signs to look for — and they might not be what you think.
1. Acting up in class
Your child's disruptive behavior in the classroom might be a sign that they're gifted. "A lot of gifted kids find the routine assignments in elementary school boring, so they'll act out, talk to friends and do other things that stimulate their minds better than adding 2+2 over and over again," explained Florida-based licensed psychologist Kathryn Esquer.
2. Low grades
If you think gifted kids always get the highest grades, think again. "Most people assume it's the precocious across-the-board child, academically excelling, who is gifted, but often the gifted child is struggling," said psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different, Dr. Gail Saltz. "A gifted child may excel in one area but struggle in another because they are gifted in one arena. A gifted child may hyperfocus on one thing to the detriment of others because they are absorbed by and able in this area and find immersion so satisfying."
Former teacher and ADHD strategist Yafa Crane Luria agreed. "You will often see D's and F's among highly gifted children that aren't being 'fed' the learning they need," she said. "Gifted kids require as special an education as special-needs kids. At least there has to be a component in the curriculum to address their skills if the whole curriculum isn't geared toward them."
Disparate uneven mental and physical development may lead to frustration, which can display as anger, in gifted children. "Gifted children tend to think quicker than their little bodies may be able to keep up with," said Esquer. " Although they may be able to solve a problem in their minds, they can't physically carry out the solution. An example of this is a child working on a time math assignment — although they can calculate the answers in their heads quickly, their fine motor skills are less developed (and more on par with their biological age) and they may become frustrated when they can't write the answers as quickly as they can solve the problem."
4. Lack of friends
Gifted children may relate better to adults and older children than kids their own age. "This can leave them isolated and potentially bullied in their classroom," said Esquer. "Gifted kids often feel frustrated when kids their own age are unable to keep up with their imagination and critical thinking. Since gifted kids are often seen as 'mini-adults,' teachers and parents may overreact to age-appropriate behaviors, such as low impulse control, in gifted kids."
5. Depression and/or anxiety
Some gifted children might display signs of depression or anxiety because of their heightened emotional sensitivity and deep, intense feelings and reactions, which they may find it difficult to verbalize or even comprehend. "A gifted child may emotionally struggle with anxiety because their intellectual capacity goes beyond their developmentally psychological capacity to manage the content they can comprehend," explained Saltz.
"Gifted children tend to take criticisms more personally than their peers," said Esquer. "Additionally, they tend to internalize failures more deeply than their peers. This may lead to gifted children developing a fear of failure — which [could] be strong enough to prevent them from even trying to attempt a task that they are unfamiliar with, such as trying out for a sports team or tackling a new homework assignment."
If you think your child is gifted and not thriving in their school environment, ask your school district for a free psychoeducational assessments to determine if your child is in need of an individualized education plan. "Wait times for these evaluations can often be several months," warned Esquer. "Working with a licensed psychologist in your community for the psychoeducational assessment can get you the answers you need quicker, and they can advocate on your behalf to the school district."