How Do I Know if My Child is Gifted?

Dr. Susan Karpicke, Director of Admissions
During my thirty-one years as Director of Admissions at Sycamore, the question I have been asked most often is "How do I know if my child is gifted?" To answer, I need to explain what we at Sycamore mean when we use the word “gifted.”

Historically there have been numerous attempts by many prominent people to define giftedness.  Such definitions have often referenced general intellectual ability, potential in specific academic fields, creativity, leadership, or strength in the affective domain or the visual or performing arts.

At Sycamore, our focus is on children who have very high levels of academic and intellectual potential.  Academically gifted kids typically learn faster than most and require a challenging curriculum that is differentiated to meet their needs.  They usually score approximately two standard deviations above the mean on standardized measures of intelligence and comprise about 2-3% of the population.  

Identifying children with high academic and intellectual potential can be extremely complicated.  The process often includes some type of formal assessment. Listed below are other key components we at Sycamore use to generate reliable information that informs the identification process.

Parent input:  Parents typically know their child better than anyone else and are thought to be among the best identifiers of gifted children.

Teacher feedback: If a child is enrolled in school, feedback from a current teacher is very valuable because teachers see each child in comparison with other children and can provide information on intellectual potential, social and emotional development, behavior, and current school performance.

Assessment:  Objective assessment of a child’s potential is important because it, for the most part, removes subjectivity and replaces it with data about how a child compares with a large norm group of children of the same age on important intellectual domains.

A “shadow” visit at Sycamore:  Our teachers are trained and experienced in working with gifted children.  They recognize the characteristics of gifted children and are able to assess potential and not just achievement.  A child may not know how to do something simply because he/she has never been exposed to the subject.

At Sycamore, there is a formal process for identifying gifted children that includes all of the factors described above.  However, we realize that many parents want to have some idea if they are “on the right track” in thinking that they have a gifted child before they undergo formal evaluation.  For all of those parents, we developed a list of what we call the “12 Signs” of a gifted child, signs which include the following:

  1. Early language development:  Most gifted children learn language and use it appropriately earlier than is typical.  This is often the first sign of giftedness that parents notice.
  2. Excellent memory:  Gifted children have very good memories.  We often advise parents not to promise a bright child something they don’t intend to deliver because their child will remember the promise even if the parents don’t.
  3. Persistent curiosity:  This refers to more than the typical “why” questions asked by most young children.  These kids want to know the “how.” Parents commonly refer to them as little sponges, soaking up any information provided.
  4. Rapid learning: They learn new things quickly, often without repetition.
  5. Sense of humor:  Gifted kids show signs of recognizing humor in situations at a very young age.
  6. Intensity:  These children can be very serious and passionate about what they are interested in.  Your kitchen may end up looking like a solar system as you encourage them to explore their passions.
  7. Long attention span:  Gifted kids can often pay attention for a much longer time than their age peers. (Note:  Gifted children can also have ADHD just like other kids. They are called twice exceptional or 2e kids.  This does not mean that they are not gifted.  They are gifted kids with a learning difference.)
  8. Sensitivity:  Emotional sensitivity is common within this group.  So is tactile sensitivity. They often don’t like scratchy fabrics, tags in their shirts, or seams in their socks.
  9. Keen skills of observation:  These kids are observers.  They like to get the “lay of the land” before entering into new situations.
  10. Preference for older playmates:  Gifted kids often prefer to socialize with older kids or adults over their age peers.
  11. Perfectionism:  This is a very strong characteristic among gifted kids.  They expect to know how to do things the right way the first time and can be very hard on themselves when that doesn’t happen.
  12. Strong sense of morality and justice:  They like things to be fair for themselves and for others.
Your child does not have to possess every one of these characteristics to be gifted.  If some of these traits describe your child, it may be worth further investigation because you really might have a gifted child.

Susan Karpicke, EdD
Director of Admissions
Sycamore School
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