Hidden Gifts: What To Know So Your Child Isn't Overlooked
By David Palmer, Ph.D.
School's in session - and although most of their parents don't
realize it, millions of early elementary age kids are being
screened, tested, and sorted in an attempt to find those who need
gifted education support services to flourish.
While it may seem that gifted kids should be able to do well in any
setting, parents, researchers, and specialists who advocate for this
sometimes overlooked group point out that many of our brightest
child minds become bored, frustrated, and tuned out – both socially
and academically – without placement in a gifted program that allows
them to move through the curriculum at their own pace and connect
with "mental mates" who may hold similar interests.
While many schools do an excellent job of finding these kids using
screening methods like teacher recommendations and group IQ testing,
parents shouldn't be entirely dependent on the schools when it comes
to identification. Keep in mind that many teacher training programs
require little, if any, course work in giftedness, so some teachers
and school administrators may not have all the information they need
to recognize gifted children. There are also gifted kids who are not
particularly high achievers in the classroom or who don't do well on
group tests. These kids may have problems with attention, have poor
organizational skills, or simply not mesh with the teaching style in
the classroom, and therefore may be overlooked when it comes to
selection of gifted program candidates.
These types of scenarios are not unusual. In fact, some estimate
that the majority of gifted children in the schools are never
identified. That may not be a tragedy for some, but it very well
could be for others who truly need special programming and support
to get through school successfully.
I recall one boy he tested privately at the request of his mother
who was concerned because her son was getting poor grades, having
conflicts with the teacher, and becoming more and more disinterested
in school. He was having social conflicts too, being teased and
picked on by other students who liked to see his overreactions when
they provoked him. It had gotten to the point where home schooling
was being considered since it was getting harder to even get him out
the door to go to school, which he considered torture. The school
had never tested her son for giftedness. Whatever screening process
was in place had missed him. Possibly because he didn't fit the
high-achieving, cooperative, wunderkind image that some teachers
look for when making recommendations for gifted screening. Yet it
turned out that his IQ measured in the 160's – in the exceptionally
This boy's problems at school are not unusual for unidentified gid
kids. Had he been properly tested and placed in an alternative
program, many of his academic and social problems might have been
avoided. At the very least, the boy's parents and teachers would
have had a better understanding of his problems and been able to
collaborate from a more informed perspective to come up with
Because schools can sometimes look over gifted kids who may need
special programming, your insights as a parent are important. The
more knowledge you have, the better position you'll be in to
collaborate with the school to help assure that your child's
potential and learning needs are not overlooked.
So How do You Tell if Your Child is Gifted?
As you've probably guessed, without proper assessment, which
involves a professionally administered IQ test, there is no easy
answer. There are no universally accepted traits that you can look
for and no definitive signs that will tell you for sure whether your
child is gifted. However, many gifted children share some common
characteristics, and knowing these is a good place to start.
While most children are able to form recognizable sentences and
understand complex language by about two years of age, gifted
children often reach these milestones earlier. As they approach
school age, other language skills may appear advanced or
All children (all people really, big and small) have an inborn
desire to learn about the world around them – to seek out new
experiences, figure out the relationship between themselves and
their surroundings, to discover, and to learn. What distinguishes
gifted children from others is the apparent natural ease and joy
with which they go about doing this. Their brains appear to be
mental sponges, effortlessly absorbing and incorporating new
information and ideas.
Emotional and Behavioral Traits
Gifted children are often more emotionally intense than others. They
can also be more sensitive to others' feelings and circumstances and
may display a great deal of empathy in situations where others their
age appear indifferent.
Gifted children may also be advanced in skills involving balance,
coordination, and movement and in some purposeful fine-motor
activities such as assembling small objects (e.g., legos,
transforming toys, blocks) or putting puzzles together.
What to Do if You Think Your Child Has Been Overlooked?
So what should you do if your child has shown many of the above
traits, and you feel that he has been overlooked by the school's
gifted screening process? While you don't want to be perceived as
overly protective or pushy, you also want to make sure that those
making the decisions have all the information they need to truly
understand your child.
Start by talking with your child's teacher and sharing your
thoughts. Parents and teachers are a child's most important allies
and they need to keep each other informed and up to date. Each sees
the child from a different perspective and each has a particular
insight into a child's learning needs. As a parent, you've watched
your child's development since birth. You've seen him at home, at
play, with friends, and with family. You're in a good position to
truly understand his specific interests, temperament, unique gifts,
strengths, and limitations. The teacher, on the other hand, has had
an opportunity to evaluate your child's learning style, academic
skills, and social and cognitive development in comparison to a
large number of other children of the same age. It doesn't take long
for most experienced teachers to develop an intuitive sense of their
students' strengths and needs – to evaluate how quickly they learn,
the type of instruction they respond to best, and t heir attitudes
toward school. The teacher may also help you to better understand
the district's gifted education program and how it is different than
what your child is already receiving.
Together, you should be able to get a more complete, objective view
than either of you had on your own. Maybe you'll come to realize
that your child would be better off in a general education program
since his learning style would not mesh with the type of curriculum
being used in the district's gifted program. On the other hand, in
light of the extra information you have given her the teacher may
recommend to the district administrator in charge of gifted
placement that your child be tested further, maybe with an
individually administered IQ test.
If you've already talked with the teacher and you still feel that
your child's needs are not being met, then consider following up on
your request with an administrator. Find out through conversations
with other parents, or by a phone call to the district office, who
is in charge of the gifted program selection process at your child's
school. Then write a politely worded letter stating your concerns.
Also consider sending a copy to the district's coordinator of gifted
education, the school principal, and the teacher.
Now all you need to do is allow those involved to respond and let
the district's screening process take over. Districts generally want
to work with parents and will follow up on most reasonable requests.
David Palmer is an educational psychologist and author of the newly released book, Parents' Guide to IQ Testing
and Gifted Education: All You Need to Know to Make the Right Decisions for Your Child – available online and through
fine book sellers. Read more at