Identifying Gifted Children

All professionals have a role to play to mediate and scaffold children’s learning.

A lack of appropriate recognition and response can lead to problems for gifted children, their families and educators. For example, young gifted children who are not extended in their learning can experience boredom, alienation, social difficulties and depression. Some become underachievers, failing to reach their full potential, and develop negative attitudes towards their early childhood setting or school.

Where giftedness is not understood or recognised in early childhood settings, families of gifted children may feel their knowledge of their children’s learning and development and their perspectives on what they require are not respected and valued.

Early childhood and school professionals who are not informed and aware of giftedness and talent in young children, or even rejecting of it, may find they struggle to understand and connect with these children and their families.

For examples of how gifted children may present in early learning centres, see:

Identification of giftedness in young children

    There are a number of characteristics that can signal to a professional that a young child might be gifted. There are behaviours that can be observed that indicate when a child’s thinking or learning is advanced. Examples include:
  • early development of language
  • abstract thinking
  • strong memory
  • a capacity to focus and concentrate on tasks of interest
  • intellectual curiosity
  • a strong motivation to learn.

Although development may be rapid in some areas, young gifted children have the same learning to master as all children. How they manage this learning and when these behaviours appear can be different because their cognitive development can be advanced in particular ways. For instance young gifted children may start talking earlier, or may begin at much the same age as other children but then their language development can be more rapid and they quickly become very articulate.

Young gifted children can also behave in a more sophisticated way than their peers. This can have different outcomes. For instance it could result in them taking on the role of the leader in play, or it may put them out of step with other children, making social interaction more difficult.

In many cases, where professionals and families have recognised a child’s advanced development or learning and are responding in an appropriate way, it may not be useful to seek a formal identification of giftedness through assessments such as IQ tests. Formal assessment of giftedness may be more appropriate later on, when the child is older, about to transition to school or is attending school. If the child and their family are receiving appropriate support, formal testing may not be required, particularly in the early years.

On the other hand, there are situations when formal testing is appropriate, such as when very high levels of giftedness or a learning difficulty are suspected, or if such testing is required for entry to specific programs.

Myth:

Gifted and talented children are not found in disadvantaged areas, they are products of upper, middle class or professional families.

Fact:
Gifted children occur in the same numbers in all socio-economic and cultural groups. The challenge for early childhood professionals is to be aware and know how to identify children who are gifted and talented.

Considerations in identification

In identifying giftedness and/or talent in young children, professionals should consider a number of factors that can affect the process.
  • Individual assessments and observations are ‘snapshots’ only, and provide information about what the child can do at this time. To really identify a young gifted and/or talented child requires a collection of evidence over time.
  • For various reasons, young children may not perform ‘on demand’, and thus not demonstrate their full potential.
  • The development of young gifted and talented children can be very uneven, with peaks and troughs, stops and starts. Multiple assessments and observations over time are necessary to identify advanced development or learning.
  • Where gifted and talented children also have disabilities (dual exceptionality), the disability can hide or mask the giftedness or talent. Educators should be aware that gifted and talented children can show learning that may not fit within conventional ideas about achievement.
  • Cultural and other biases can interfere with a professional’s ability to identify giftedness and talent in young children. Families’ different cultural backgrounds can lead to a diversity of expressions of giftedness and talent, and may not fit narrow or pre-determined ideas. In some cultures, children may be discouraged from displaying their abilities.
  • Stereotypes about giftedness and talent can lead to failure to identify young gifted children, particularly where the signs of giftedness are subtle. Young gifted children are not ‘geniuses’. Not all gifted children are early readers or good at maths.
  • Young gifted children may lack opportunity or support to demonstrate their gifted potential, or develop this potential into talent, and thus not be identified.