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The Characteristics of the Exceptionally Able Child -
Is My Child "Gifted"?

Mother helping childTrying to determine whether your child is "gifted" can be difficult; particularly if he or she is your first child, as you have nothing to measure against. Often it's other people, sometimes outside of the family, who will bring your child's talent to your attention. You may feel that your child is just simply a bright kid. Usually though, there are some tell tale signs.


According to the Centre for Talented Youth of Ireland gifted children demostrate a range of characteristics which often set them apart from their peers. If you think your child may be expectionally able then check out these general character traits. Remember all children are different and may be stronger in some areas and weaker in others. This list is useful in that it can be used as a possible indicator of talent. In other words, it's a good starting point, if you feel your child may be fall into the gifted spectrum. If you find yourself ticking alot of these boxes then maybe you should considered having your child assessed.

Characteristics of the Gifted and Talented Child

  • Keen powers of observation.
  • Learned or read very early, often before school age.
  • Reads widely and rapidly.
  • Well developed vocabulary - takes delight in using unusual and new words.
  • Has great intellectual curiosity.
  • Absorbs information rapidly - often called sponges.
  • Very good memory - can recall information in different circumstances.
  • Have to ability to concentrate deeply for prolonged periods.
  • Very good powers of reasoning and problem solving.
  • Have intense interests.
  • Possess unusual imagination.
  • Have a great interest in "big" questions, e.g. the nature of the universe, the problem of suffering in the world, environmental issues.
  • Very sensitive - perhaps getting upset easily.
  • Very concerned about rights and wrongs, concerned about injustices.

As these indicators suggest intellectually able children experience the world differently from their peer group and this often sets them apart. Isolation can happen quite easily, particularly at school, where the children's innate sensitivity and their often adult take on the world makes it even more difficult for them to make and keep friendships. They can sometimes be seen as a bit "weird" with their adult language and interests. (Some interesting new research which was published in March 2006 by the National Institute for Mental Health in the US claimed that after a study of mri scans of 370 children, those with a higher intelligence had a different brain development that those of their peers.) However, it's important to remember that despite their high intellectual ability, often coupled with an understanding way beyond their years, these are still children with all the same sensibilities and vulnerabilities of other children. This is why they need all of the support and nurturing that we as parents and educators can give. Their needs are special and different to other kids. Their potential is enormous, these are possibly the future thinkers, scientists, writers of the future, but they will only blossom if they are taught in a way that is appropriate to them. A talent in whatever discipline, whether it's in sports, music, literature, the visual arts or science will only develop fully if it's supported.

Why do highly able children often struggle with social skills? This is probably one of the key areas which presents most difficulties for both kids and parents alike. All parents want the very best for their children and any parent would be concerned if their child found it difficult to develop and maintain friendships. We know that this is central to a child's happiness and self esteem. So, the worry that this causes is huge. As the National Association for Gifted Children in the UK put it:

"Highly gifted children tend to be those who demonstrate asynchronous development - the process whereby the intellect develops faster and further than other attributes such as social, emotional and physical development. Due to their high cognitive abilities and high intensities, they experience and relate to the world in unique ways."

As a result, gifted children often need a lot of support and understanding in this area both at home and at school. You may find that your child gets what seems unreasonably upset about what you would consider "small" things; or they find it difficult to make friends with school mates who find their thinking a bit strange. This is why is it so vital that particularly primary school teachers have some training in the area of giftedness as it would help them to understand why the child is acting in this way. Key programmes like the Walk Tall programme can help but we need more specific training for primary school teachers in this area.

Giftedkids.ie Pilot Webinar Series:

Giftedkids launched our pilot webinar series on January 28th this year with "Characteristics of the Exceptionally Able – Faster, Earlier, Differently”, presented by Margaret Keane and Anna Giblin. The feedback from both parent and teacher participants, has been overwhelmingly positive and the recorded webinar can be viewed, by clicking here. The accompanying presentation handout, suggested reading list and the online resources list can also be downloaded. Please feel free to forward these links to colleagues or interested parents. In the meantiime you can view a shortened version of the presentation below.


The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University, adjunct professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine, and chairman of the steering committee of the graduate school's Project Zero.

He has written twenty books and hundreds of articles and is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, which holds that intelligence goes far beyond the traditional verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical measurements. Here he discusses student-directed learning, multiple intelligences, and a different approach to assessment.

Source: Edutopia, The George Lucas Education Foundation

Personal Stories

“I remember my son was finding it really difficult when he first started school. He was so bored and found it very difficult to make friends. His teacher called me in several l times to tell me he was disruptive in class. She knew he was bright because he was able to read the notes she was sending home to me. It was like he was a problem - the school never once said that he could be academically talented. He could read at the age of 3 and at 5 he was reading encyclopedias - everything he could get his hands on about dinosaurs. Looking back it must have been a pretty miserable time for him because he found it so hard to make friends as his vocabulary and the things he was interested in just seemed to set him apart from his schoolmates. It just looked like being clever was a "bad" thing. Even now we're still trying to undo the damage this negative experience caused."

“I actually learned about CYTI from another parent in the school. She'd seen a newspaper article on it and gave it to me. I rang and spoke to Dr. Sheila Gilheany who was the director at the time and as we spoke it seemed like I finally understood where my son was coming from. I learned that he wasn't alone that there were lots of kids out there like him. His years at the CYTI have been a fantastically positive experience for him and if I'm honest it's been the social aspect that's probably had the most positive effect. The courses are great, but learning to make friends with kids that are like you is fantastic."


Disclaimer: This is not an expert site, it is run on a voluntary basis and as such is based on opinion and experience but we hope that it acts as a signpost for educational resources and other support services for Irish families with exceptionally able children. By using this website you accept that any dependence by you on such information, opinion or advice is at your own risk.

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