Does Giftedness Decline with Age?
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
Q: I am actually not the parent but the
child, wondering about her own identification. I would greatly
appreciate your time for any insightful answers to a couple of
questions/things I am unsure of.
I had been identified as gifted by my school district early on in
elementary school but I do not know my score nor have an idea of what to
expect to be the extent of my abilities.
Now, in high school, I have begun to doubt my giftedness for some
inexplicable reason and there are a few things I would like to know more
Is it normal to feel like you're 'plateauing' at a certain age?
When I was younger I could remember events and stories with great
accuracy and connect things that I saw with other things that I learned,
but now it doesn't seem like I do that as much any more.
If so, will the 'plateauing' pass and will I be able to use my mind
with the confidence I had before? (I apologize if that question was a
Is it normal to be identified as a 'bright' or 'hard working' student
if you're gifted? I have been called bright and talented and
occasionally gifted, but the line between gifted and bright/talented
seems to get fuzzier for me day by day. I used to never study for tests
and rarely paid attention in class yet still got good scores, but I'm
not so sure if that's still true now.
Thank you so much for your time Dr. Sandhu!
Very interesting query! I would think that if the school has identified
you as being gifted, there should be provisions made to cater for your
educational needs at school. I am sure you would be placed in a special
program to enhance your gifts. Your query appears a little unclear but
I'll try to answer based on my understanding of your letter. I believe
you mean that as you are growing older, you feel as if you are at a
stage of “plateau” which is a stage when something, in this case, your
gifts, is still/stable or stop changing (i.e., no improvement or
Whether there is a decline in intelligence with age, is something that
is being debated to date. We have two forms of intelligence; fluid and
crystallized. Briefly, fluid intelligence is tied to biology and deals
with one's ability to make on-the-spot decisions that are not dependent
on experience. On the other hand, crystallized intelligence is the
amount of information a person has absorbed and accumulated from a
community and culture over time. Research indicates that crystallized
abilities are generally high regardless of age but there is a tendency
of fluid intelligence to decline.
Having said that, it is also believed that as we grow older, the two
forms of intelligence become more integrated, so that older adults can
still perform well, especially in an area in which they are interested
and/or an expert in. Hence, the ability to use information to solve
problems or make decisions is one of those skills that draw from both
fluid and crystallized intelligence. Furthermore as children, there is
little interference from previous knowledge, but as adults, the
interference is much more so memory declines over time. This is more of
a memory problem due to sensory storage problems in the short-term
rather than long-term memory processes. Older adults (not at your age
for now but we all get there!) tend to learn more slowly and perform
less well on tasks involving imagination and memorization than do
younger adults, but what older adults may be lacking in terms of
specific mental tasks, they make up for in wisdom, or expert and
practical knowledge based on life experience (crystallized
intelligence). Some influence and decline is there as we grow older.
Environmental stimulation, personality, and temperament are variables
that can promote or strangle giftedness but cannot create giftedness out
of normality. So once gifted, forever gifted! It is also true that some
child prodigies may not grow up to become exceptional adults, and
exceptional adults may not have been extraordinary children. Therefore,
talent is not a stable characteristic but may wax and wane throughout
the life span, affected by many variables. So when talent in a certain
area appears to have decline, it is generally not because the gift is
lost but most probably because the passion for developing it has ceased
to exist. In this case motivation alongside with innate ability is
strong in people with highly developed skills.
It is possible that you may not be very motivated and perhaps lost
interest causing to not being able to remain as you have been
previously. Whether it will pass really depends on your will. You would
need to make learning at high school meaningful and interesting for you.
Try doing projects that interests you rather than the usual popular
ones. Motivation is crucial here so you need to be motivated. As you get
into higher education, skills used in the past may not be applicable to
the same extent and you need to master new skills. Hard work is no
exception whether you are gifted or not especially when you are in
As for the terms – gifted, talented, bright, hardworking – these are
merely man made terms to ease educational provisions and guide us
better. But as we grow older, these terms may not help much. I would
advise that you not be too concerned with the terms and do the best you
can. Though, just based on your query, I believe you are indeed gifted.
I am sure you will succeed as you have so far. Maybe just don't analyse
too much and go with the flow!
You may find the following read on gifted adults useful. Best of luck!