How do we identify giftedness?

Giftedness can be evident from an early age. Parent may notice unusual alertness, less need for sleep, or babies and young children reaching milestones earlier than expected. Many gifted children walk and/or talk early, some learn to read without instruction. But neither of these alone are enough to identify a child as gifted.

A multifaceted approach is valuable, gathering information not only about milestones but also anecdotal observations, from drawings or play habits and things a child has said or done.

At a later stage a psychometric assessment may provide useful information but an experienced consultant will likely be able to give you an indication of how gifted a child may be even without an IQ test. Schools however almost certainly will require some quantitative evidence before they will make major changes (including accelerating a child is appropriate). Hopefully they will also draw on anecdotal and developmental information in identifying students in their care.

Parents should be aware however that in Australia teachers do not received pre-service training in giftedness as a matter of course. Some may be exposed through lecturer interest, others may take a Special Needs elective which mentions giftedness, but there is no required gifted component to teacher education despite the fact that virtually every class will include gifted students. (This is a national concern not simply one in Wesetern Australia.  This article about teacher Education in catering for gifted learners outlines the national situation (at 2008, anecdotally there has been little change since). There are also limited opportunities for post graduate learning specifically in giftedness meaning that many teachers work from a base of popular perception rather than research based factual information.

There are a number of different checklists which can be used by parents and teachers in identifying giftedness in children. You may like to use the Checklists page to find out more about the characteristics of giftedness.

In 2005 all schools in Australia received a copy of the Gifted Education Professional Development Package (developed through DEST, later renamed DEEWR).  There are 6 modules each available for Early Childhood, Primary and Secondary students. Core, Extension and Specialisation level units are included. Module 2 covers Identifying Gifted Students. These documents were available online from DEST until 2012 when the link was removed. You can now access the documents from the DEEWR archives (through Feedom of Information).

Why identify?

There is a prevailing view that gifted kids will be do well anyway so there is no need to actually identify them specifically. The reality is they have different learning needs and these need to be recognised and appropriate opportunities provides, just as they are for any child whose needs differ from the norm.

Some gifted children are fine and will do well at school. However, the more gifted a child is, the greater their learning needs differ from average and the greater the chance they will not be fine and do well (certainly not as well as they might).

A proportion of gifted children also have dual exceptionalities – they are gifted and also have some other learning difference or difficulty. In many cases these children use their giftedness to compensate for their difficulty to a degree and they may have been at school for quite a few years before the demand is such that their compensating strategies are no longer sufficient. In these cases neither their giftedness nor their learning difficulty is identified and neither need is addressed.

Using checklists and anecdotal information can alert parents to the discrepancy and help them begin to identify the areas needing attention.

More than knowing whether a child is gifted, knowing how gifted they are is vital. The modifications needed for an exceptionally gifted child are quite different to those for a moderately gifted child. Even in a school or classroom which identifies gifted students, opportunities provided for gifted children will need to be differentiated to accommodate the variation amongst the gifted students.

You may find it helpful to read more about the Myths surrounding the identification and education of gifted students.

What now?
Identification is really just the beginning of the journey. It is likely that parents will need to be involved to some degree throughout a child’s school years, advocating on their behalf, providing information and insights teachers may not be able to observe in the school setting and supporting their child emotionally. Information is really the key. The more widely your read, the more you are able to connect with other parents for support and insights, the more you trust your own instincts about what is needing or how well things are working, the better the outcomes are likely to be.

You may find more useful information in the Advocacy section of the website. You will also find that Derrin’s book Gifted and Thriving at School: How proactive parents can get the education that fits their child  provides a comprehensive guide map to preparting and advocating effectively for your child. You may also like to read Francoys Gagne’s Ten commandments of Talent Development.

Articles of interest

Is it a Cheetah? by Stephanie Tolan

How smart is my child?  by Deborah Ruf

FAQ’s about assessing giftedness from the NSWAGTC

Advantages of using the Stanfor Binet Version 5 when Assessing Gifted Individuals by Fiona Smith

Who are the gifted using the new WISC IV? by Linda Silverman

Why gifted children may not test well from Parenting for High Potential March 2009

Why bright kids get poor grades and what to do about it  by Sylvia Rimm (2E focus)

Ability Levels and Educational Options by Fiona Smith (Gifted Minds)

Looking at giftedness from a different perspective  
Analogies and parables provide a useful way to gain an understanding of giftedness and some of the issues that are associated with it. Stephanie Tolan’s Is it a Cheetah? article (mentioned above) is very powerful and perhaps the most common.

You may also enjoy one of the following :
The Parable of the Bonsai 
A fable about school
The Durr Parable on acceleration 
If classrooms ran as football teams