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What is a Gifted Child?


Updated May 16, 2014

Students taking a test in classroom.
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Robert Daly/OJO Images/Iconica/Getty Images

Gifted or not gifted? Is everyone gifted? Is no one gifted? What does a gifted child look like? These are questions that are asked frequently by parents and others. Describing a gifted child is difficult because not everyone defines "gifted" the same way. As difficult as it is, it is still possible to provide a general description of typical gifted children because they have many similar traits. The more you learn about gifted children, the easier it becomes to identify them.

High IQ:


  • Mildly Gifted -- 115 to 129
  • Moderately Gifted -- 130 to 144
  • Highly Gifted -- 145 to 159
  • Exceptionally Gifted -- 160 to 179
  • Profoundly Gifted -- 180
These ranges are based on a standard bell curve. Most people fall in the range between 85 and 115, with 100 the absolute norm. This range is considered normal. The farther away from the absolute norm of 100 a child is, the greater the need for special educational accommodations, regardless of whether the distance is on the left or right of 100.


Exceptional Talent:

Exceptional talent is the ability to perform a skill at a level usually not reached until later years, sometimes as late as adulthood. A three-year old may be reading like a third grader or a nine-year-old may be playing piano like an 18 year old, who has studied for years. If the exceptional talent is in a non-academic area such as music or art, the children may not be identified as gifted by the school because most testing for gifted programs is based on academic ability or achievement.

High Achievement:

Gifted children are usually, but not always, high achievers. Even when they don't achieve good grades, they tend to score high on achievement tests, most often in the 95-99 percentile range. They love to learn and their love of learning, good memories, and ability to learn quickly and easily enable them to succeed. However, if a gifted child has lost the motivation to learn, he or she may not do well in school, although achievement test scores will usually remain high.

Potential to Achieve or Excel:

Whether or not a gifted child excels in school, he or she has the potential to do so. Many gifted children are intrinsically motivated, which means the motivation comes from within. They become motivated by interest and challenge. When these children are interested and appropriately challenged, they can and will achieve. However, even though a gifted child may not be achieving in school, he or she may still be learning and achieving on their own at home.

Heightened Sensitivity:

Although heightened sensitivity is rarely, if ever, used to identify gifted children in school, it is so common among gifted children that it is one of the characteristics that set them apart from other children. They may be emotionally sensitive, crying over what others considered trivial. They may be physically sensitive, bothered by tags on shirts or seams on socks. Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski called these "over-excitabilities."

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