Formal Identification

The early childhood period is important in establishing strong foundations for learning. It is essential that professionals recognise where a young child is showing advanced potential, identify their specific strengths and interests and understand the ways they can help further the child’s learning, abilities and development.

Appropriate support from educators and other professionals can be an important factor in enabling young gifted children to fully develop their potential into competencies or talent. It is the professional responsibility of all educators to support all children in developing their full potential.

Recognition and identification of giftedness and talent in young children is a necessary first step in providing support that will enable them to reach their full potential. If there is a lack of recognition of a gifted child’s advanced potential and specific requirements, there is a risk that they will not reach their full potential and that their experiences of early childhood education and care and the early years of school will not be optimal. They may experience boredom, frustration, alienation, lack of confidence, social difficulties and underachievement, even at a very young age.

Formal approaches to identification

There is a range of formal approaches to identify giftedness in young children such as IQ and achievement tests administered by psychologists and other qualified professionals. Observations of children’s cognitive development and metacognition are particularly relevant and should be shared with other professionals who may be called upon to assess the child’s abilities.  

It is ideal if families and educators can work with professionals to share information about the child’s learning and how they support the child. This information can then be used by psychologists and other professionals to identify appropriate achievement tests that will support the child’s learning and provide information to educators to be able to plan for the child’s learning and appropriate teaching strategies.

Sometimes families and/or professionals perceive a child as being gifted, but an IQ assessment may not confirm this perception. Louise Porter’s Model of Identification accounts for different possible outcomes from formal IQ testing. This includes where the outcome of the test does not concur with the perspectives of the family or those professionals who work with the child. Porter has developed a proposed model for the realisation of gifted potential and recommends professionals continue to observe children and support the child’s learning and development, based on those observations.

IQ tests

Intellectual quotient (IQ) tests measure thinking processes such as logical reasoning, language comprehension and expression, understanding of concepts and levels of general knowledge. IQ tests are standardised, which means that a child’s performance on these measures can be assessed against the expected performance of children of the same age.

It is useful for early childhood professionals to have a basic understanding of IQ and achievement tests, to understand what the test results mean and their implications for working with the child. For more information, see: IQ Testing (docx - 22.75kb)

An IQ assessment should be seen as just one of a range of multiple forms of observation and assessment that can be used to inform professional planning for a child’s learning and development. For more information, see: Pros and Cons about IQ testing with very young children (docx - 24.74kb)

It is not always necessary to formally assess a young gifted child, such as through an IQ test. Where educators are appropriately planning for the child’s advanced potential, the child is progressing well and their family is satisfied with their child’s learning and development, a formal assessment such as an IQ test may not provide any additional benefit.

On the other hand, there are situations where a formal assessment of giftedness can be useful, or even essential, for the child’s wellbeing and future progress. For example when: 

  • the child’s advanced development and learning have not been identified or supported
  • the child is facing challenges or difficulties, or is not progressing as would be expected
  • families are dissatisfied about their child’s learning and development, or finding it challenging to involve the professional concerned in a more informed understanding of the child
  • it is suspected that the child might be highly gifted or have dual exceptionality
  • a formal confirmation of giftedness is required (for example if required for early school entry or entry to specialist programs).

Understanding an IQ assessment

When psychologists conduct a formal assessment such as an IQ test, they will usually provide an accompanying report interpreting the findings, often also discussing the implications for teaching and learning.Where a formal IQ or other assessment is carried out, it is worthwhile for educators to read the assessment report – particularly where recommendations are made for the child’s educational progress.Early childhood professionals can ask families to share the report with them. Sometimes, meetings can be arranged between the family, the assessing psychologist or therapist and educators to discuss the results of the assessment and appropriate follow-up in response to the assessment outcomes. For more information, see: IQ Assessment Report (docx - 24.42kb)

Early developmental assessments

The assessment tools used by Maternal and Child Health (MCH) nurses may also identify signs of advanced development or learning in very young children. The Parent Evaluation of Developmental Status (PEDS) is an evidence-based developmental screening tool used to assess children’s development. It is a primary assessment that provides MCH nurses with a basis to begin conversations with parents about their children’s learning and development.

If questions or concerns arise from these conversations, MCH nurses can use Brigance Screens as a secondary screening tool. The Brigance can identify advanced intellectual development, as well as language, learning or global delays. Professionals should be aware that advanced or gifted development in the first few years of life is not always consistent or easy to identify, and early developmental assessment tools such as Brigance may not identify all cases. For more information, see: Brigance

Achievement tests

In the early years of school, achievement tests assess children’s learning in areas such as reading and mathematics. These assessments may be done alongside IQ tests but serve a different purpose.  As they are standardised, they compare children’s performance on the test to what could be expected as ‘typical’. They are closer to an assessment of academic or ‘school learning’ than IQ tests, and can be used to understand the child’s learning and assist in planning for their learning.

Dual exceptionality

While most children have varied developmental levels across what are considered ‘age-typical’ behaviours, some gifted children have quite large variations in their development, across different areas. Where these variations are significant, children can be regarded as demonstrating dual exceptionality or be described as being twice exceptional learners.

Dual exceptionality refers to when both giftedness and some form of disability or learning difficulty are present. This is not an uncommon situation, and it has been estimated that up to one in 10 gifted children may have some form of disability or learning difficulty. For example, some children with dyslexia can often be of above average intellectual ability.

Dual exceptionality can make the identification of giftedness and talent in young children more difficult. A child’s giftedness can compensate for their disability or learning difficulty, thus masking the disability. This can mean that the child does not receive appropriate diagnosis and support for their difficulties. On the other hand, disabilities and learning difficulties can mask giftedness, meaning that children may not have their giftedness identified and supported. It is important to recognise when a child is simultaneously gifted and has a disability.

Accurate identification of both conditions is essential if the child is to receive the support they require to fulfil their potential.While physical or sensory disabilities such as cerebral palsy or blindness will be apparent, others – such as subtle impairments of hearing or vision, or specific learning or processing difficulties – are more difficult to detect, and particularly so in a gifted child. Possible indicators of dual exceptionality include:

  • discrepancies in abilities, such as a child who exhibits advanced levels of reasoning but who struggles to read or write
  • a child who appears frustrated with their own performance on academic tasks
  • lack of confidence and avoidance of certain tasks coupled with signs of advanced ability in other areas
  • significant discrepancies in sub-test scores on IQ tests.

Dual exceptionality often does not become an issue for children and families until a child starts school. However, there are often signs in the preschool years.

It is important to try to identify dual exceptionality as early as possible, preferably before the period of transition to school. This helps to prevent the child experiencing frustration and a sense of failure in their first experiences of formal schooling, and helps to support their positive concept of themselves as a learner. It also accords with the basic principle of early intervention: earlier diagnosis that addresses and supports both the giftedness and the disability will lead to better outcomes.

For examples of dual exceptionality, see: