The Gifted Child : Characteristics And Potential Problems.


What Is Meant By ‘A Gifted Child’?

According to the National Association For Gifted Children, a gifted child is one who is in the top 3 – 5% of children of his/her age in one of the following areas:

1) General intellectual ability

2) Specific academic aptitude

3) Creative thinking

4) Visual / performance arts

5) Leadership ability

Of course, greatly more has been written about child giftedness and the above represents an oversimplification, but it is beyond the scope of this article to go into extensive detail on this.


What Kind Of Characteristics A Gifted Child Posses?

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It is useful to provide a list of the main characteristics that researchers (eg Webb 1993, 2007) have typically found a gifted child to possess. These are as follows:

– high level of interest in, and curiosity about, a large range of topics / a seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding / always asking questions

– idiosyncratic and creative sense of humour

– experiences/displays intense feelings and emotions

– studies things that interest him/her with tenacity and persistence / long attention span

– can absorb and retain large amounts of information / good memory

– early and superior understanding regarding nuances, subtleties and complexities of language (eg facility to make clever puns, understanding of subtext, implication, insinuation and the drawing of inferences)

– can form unusually complex sentences

– highly sensitive

– good at divergent thinking / putting things together in a creative and original manner

– good autodidacts eg often largely teach themselves to read and write prior to going to primary school

– good at devising complex games

– invent imaginary playmates

– many, diverse and wide-ranging interests

– likes experimenting / takes original approach to things

Unfortunately, in both the areas of education and psychology, research into gifted children is, relative to other areas of study within these disciplines, quite limited so firm conclusions about problems faced by gifted children are yet to be drawn; however, there are definite indications that many gifted children are misunderstood and that the causes of many of their behavioural characteristics are being misinterpreted.

What Kinds Of Problems Might A Gifted Child Experience?

One early researcher (Hollinghurst), working in the 1940s,  as a result of studying gifted children, drew attention to the fact that many of these young people were at risk of developing a sense of deep alienation and frustration due to the fact, for example, that others are unable to see the world as they did (although, it should be acknowledged, most teenagers feel this to some degree ; in the gifted child, however, due, often, to his/her acute sensitivity and perceptiveness, this quality may be particularly pronounced).

However, the findings of more up to date research are mixed. It suggests that gifted children can fare well if their giftedness is recognised and they are therefore given a suitable environment which nurtures and supports their unusual talents. If, on the other hand, such an enriched and appropriate environment is not provided, the child is more likely to face problems.

Of especial concern is that some clinicians have put forward the view that gifted children, due to the unusual characteristics they display that relate to their giftedness, are having such characteristics misinterpreted as signs of a psychiatric condition. Such mistakenly diagnosed conditions, they state, include:

– Asperger’s syndrome

– Obsessive – compulsive disorder



– Oppositional defiance disorder

– Bipolar disorder

My next article will explain why such misdiagnoses might occur.

Finally, it should be noted that some research also suggests that some a gifted child may be more likely to suffer (correctly diagnosed) anorexia and depression (especially existential depression).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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