Gifted Children And What It Means To Be Advanced

gifted childI was asked to write a blog on giftedness in children – specifically, how to access it and how to ensure that a child with cognitive strength is able to reach his or her potential. This has proven to be a hard topic to write about. I don’t like the term “giftedness” for several reasons, but before I divulge those, I need to discuss what it means to be “gifted.”

A quick review of basic statistics is necessary in order to understand how we assess children has demonstrating superior ability. Traditionally, when we think of giftedness, we are thinking of a child’s IQ score. The vast majority of IQ scores used standard scores. A standard score is a statistical term in which a score of 100 is solidly average (50th percentile) and a standard deviation (the spread of scores from the mean of 100) of 15. In layman terms, scores between 85-115 are considered to be average.

When you are talking about giftedness, we see scores with at least two standard deviations greater than the mean (meaning an IQ score of 130 or higher). So, gifted children are those children that have IQ scores of 130 or higher. Pretty easy to identify, right? Wrong. One of my major critiques of giftedness is that parents and some academic folk rely way too much on the overall IQ score to determine if a child is gifted.

What Are IQ Measurements For Children?

The current gold-standard IQ measure, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) came out in 2003. On the WISC-IV, children attain a Full Scale IQ score, which is comprised of several factors: verbal reasoning and comprehension, nonverbal reasoning, immediate attention and memory, and processing speed. Here lies one of the concerns in assessing giftedness. Which score should one use?

Traditionally, the Verbal Reasoning and nonverbal Perceptual Reasoning indexes were the primary components, because they were thought to accurately tap into a child’s reasoning abilities. However, if a child has superior verbal reasoning but low average-to-impaired working memory or processing speed, would he or she be gifted? My thoughts are no. After an evaluation and a child demonstrates such a profile, it is important to continue to foster and strengthen the verbal reasoning by developing strategies and accommodations to challenge him or her. At the same time, it is even more important to address the areas of weakness by accommodating the issues with working memory or processing speed.

Another concern is the child’s social and emotional functioning. So many times we see well-intentioned parents and teachers accommodate a child’s above average ability while inadvertently neglecting his or her social functioning. There has to be a balance between constant academic programming and focus on developing a child’s intellectual abilities with the development of his or her social needs.

Children with Cognitive Strengths:

Parents often ask me to assess whether their child is gifted or not. My first thought that comes to mind is, why? For whose benefit, do you want the label? Is it for parents to have another ribbon or additional bragging rights about their child? Or is it to truly help this child and identify what modifications are needed to best improve the academic world? If there are no concerns with the child’s academic placement, nor are parents interested in changing the school environment, then the label does not do anyone justice.

5 replies
  1. Amanda Mathews
    Amanda Mathews says:

    I like how you reviewed the basic statistics- as it is a good refresher for all of us. I also like your use of probing questions in the conclusion- to help all of us as the readers to think about our goals and objectives. Thank you for helping us to see both the pros and the cons of this issue.

  2. Corin Barsily Goodwin
    Corin Barsily Goodwin says:

    I think you really missed the point, actually. Giftedness is not about advancement nor is it about academic achievement. It’s a developmental asynchrony that has implications much more widespread than ‘just a label.’ Like any other neurological difference, you can’t address it unless you identify it. I strongly suggest you learn more about giftedness, twice exceptionality (being gifted & LD), and the bigger picture before you try to answer the questions that you posed at the end of your article. Why? Because you’re asking the wrong questions.

  3. Greg Stasi
    Greg Stasi says:


    Thank you for your comments.
    I agree with you about the need for an evaluation with children who present with numerous issues regarding their development.


  4. Abc
    Abc says:

    I am not an expert, but have read a huge amount on this topic. I venture to say you are wrong in your interpretation of WISC IV scores. You state the exact opposite of the true professionals.

  5. A Bak
    A Bak says:

    If most of the parents approaching you wish only to measure academic ability and consider a gifted child a feather in their cap, then the views expressed here are understandable. But there truly is a state of “giftedness” that affects every aspect and dimension of one’s life, far beyond school and intellect alone. It is a way of perceiving, thinking, feeling and reacting to the world and all its stimuli that is vastly different in quality and intensity than that experienced by most other homo sapiens. Understanding that one fits into this category, and interacting and learning from, and being guided by similar people is incredibly helpful, practically, and especially emotionally. And not understanding it… well, that can actually have devastating effects. So there is great value in identifying, and then truly helping to guide the healthy development of these exceptional children, whatever one chooses to call them.


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