What You Didn’t Know About Gifted Children

Go to school, study, make good grades, go to college, work hard—this is a universal recipe for success so often offered to our children. For some children who may struggle in school, it can be a difficult recipe to follow, but for the smart, high-achieving students, it seems a clear and easy path. And most agree that the smart, high-achieving students will find their success, they will turn out just fine—they just seem to have it made.

The smart, high-achieving students, as a homogenous student population, may find school easy, maintain high scores and excellent grades with minimal effort, and then they reap the rewards of their success in school with recognition, awards, opportunities and scholarships. Given the advantages this group of students may have in life, is it any wonder we as parents would want our children to be part of this elite group? We want our children to be successful and don’t want to see our children struggle in school.

Understandably, feeling quite sure that this group of students will succeed in school without much effort on anyone’s part, we turn our focus to those students who seem to need additional educational support and modifications to attain much-needed success in school. In fact, in the last fourteen years, federal educational initiatives, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, have both focused funding and classroom efforts on helping these underperforming students learn, show educational progress and feel successful in school. And the results of these efforts focused on our underachieving students have shown that we are gaining ground and the educational strategies and focus have been effective.

This is good news!  We all love to see those children who struggle in school succeed. It is just human nature, and it is why there are such strong negative reactions to the parents of gifted children—the smart, high-achieving students—when they complain that their gifted children need more educational focus in school.

It just makes sense—why should the gifted students who seem to have it made and already do well in school require more attention in school? Also, why do these parents ask for special attention for their gifted children when this extra effort will only take focus and funds away from those students who truly need educational support?

Here’s why.

The widely-held premise that gifted children are academically advantaged and have it made in school is flawed.

Here are some things that you probably didn’t know about gifted children:

1. Not all high-achieving students in school or in the gifted programs are gifted.

Many gifted programs include non-gifted, high-achieving students which leaves the impression that all gifted students are high-achievers and are fine on their own in school. It is not a homogenous group. The belief that high-achieving students are synonymous with gifted students disregards the fact that gifted children do not always excel in school.

2. Gifted children don’t always excel in school. 

This is especially true when their specific educational needs are ignored. And gifted children do have educational needs that must be met. Many schools do not have gifted programs and they may also refuse to differentiate or accelerate gifted children in the regular classroom even though the gifted student may be several grade levels ahead. How do you think your Kindergartener would respond to learning letter recognition, letter sounds and how to sound out words for months even though she already knows how to read?

3. Gifted children often have increased social and emotional intensities and sensitivities which are often misunderstood in school.

It is said that gifted children see, feel and experience the world through a stronger lens than the rest of us. These intensities and sensitivities are real and need to be understood. Their cognitive functions are always on overdrive—like brains on fire. These sensitivities and intensities need to be understood and addressed in school. When they are not, gifted students are at risk for behavioral issues, boredom, frustration, depression, underachievement, PTSD and suicide. Parents of gifted children try to ask for help and support when their gifted child begins to hate school because they are not learning anything new, but others shoot them down because they believe they are asking for more for their gifted child who seems to already have more than enough.

4. A disproportionate number of suicides, high school drop-outs and incarcerations are gifted individuals.

These statistics give us anecdotal evidence that gifted children are not fine on their own and are indeed special education students requiring an education that meets them at their level of ability while addressing their unique emotional and social needs. Have you heard of the school to prison pipeline?

5. Gifted education accommodations such as acceleration and differentiation for gifted children DO NOT take away resources from any other group of students.

It is not an either-or situation. There are several accommodations that busy teachers and schools can make for gifted children that are cost-effective and efficient. Although every student deserves an appropriate education, including gifted children, there are ways to meet the educational needs of the gifted while not compromising anyone’s education. Skipping a grade or subject acceleration is one such example. If a Kindergartener is performing at a 2nd grade level at the end of the school year, what harm or expense is incurred is she is allowed to just skip a grade and be promoted to 2nd grade instead of 1st? Also, state and district educational budgets can and should have the funding to educate ALL children properly, and no child’s education should be sacrificed for another.

6. Gifted children can have co-existing learning disabilities which must be accommodated as a special educational need.

Yes, although they are intellectually advanced, gifted children can also have learning disabilities which hinders their success in school. These are our twice-exceptional or 2E kids. That brilliant child who has been identified as gifted, who seems to have it made in school, may also have dyslexia and struggles with reading.


When parents of gifted children advocate and plead with schools to accommodate the educational needs of their gifted child, they may be at the point where their child is failing, hates school, is feeling shunned by peers and other adults, and may feel as though his life is over. At this point, the parent who is afraid their gifted child may drop out or may commit suicide can be ostracized at the same time by unknowing parents who think this parent is asking for educational favors for their gifted child who is misjudged as having it made. 

14 Comments on “What You Didn’t Know About Gifted Children

  1. I found this very late. I have a question about my kid. He is i think moderately gifted ( score 98percentile on nnat2 and olsat) , creative thinker and high achiever. He is in 5th grade now i didnt send him to full time gifted school so he is not gifted cluster class with advanced kids. I did have similar problems when i grew up… Worry about everything, suicide desires, academic grade decrease (ended up graduated good school got decent job), interested in many thing but didnt achieve any. Now i am a mom with two boys. My parents basically abandoned me. I am not complaining cause it was hard days for my parents…more like survival. I have raised my kids to be person who can enjoy their life. at least i thought i was. Recently my little one who is in 5th grade has been changed from high achiever to overachiever. i am not so sure that i need to concern or be happy. I gave him as many opportunities as possible. He played golf for 5years once a week, baseball for 4, each season he play basketball,swimming , playing violin and piano for 4. His academic was gradually improved better (i was focus on academic). Yes he does everything well. Now he wants more at school many different clubs running for school president. He is very different from me which i wanted but now i am not sure how to help him or stop him. For godsake he us only 10. I have focused on his brother for long time cause he had a learning and behavioral issues. Should i take him to councillor so he can tell truth about all thus activities and me? Please i didnt ask him to apply any of these clubs. It is important for me to hear from someone like you.

    • Soyoung,

      It is always a good idea to get a professional’s opinion when you have concerns or questions about your child. I would try to find a psychologist who has experience working with gifted children.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I am having a light bulb moment. I never felt like I was like the other kids. I was put into the Honors/AP classes because I was a high achiever early on. I was so bored during school and dreaded going once I hit Jr. high and high school. I didn’t fit in with anyone, was socially inept and my mind just didn’t work the same way. I couldn’t explain it and didn’t want anyone to know that I was even more different than they thought. I did very little homework and still could retain the information … IF, I actually went to school. My first memory of planning for my own suicide was at the age of 8. I graduated high school with a 1.6 GPA. Since my grades weren’t stellar anymore, I figured I was just dumber than all the others in my classes and someday they would find out I was a fraud. Fast forward to college and I eventually just stopped buying the textbooks because I didn’t need them. Very little effort was needed. I now have an associate’s, 2 bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

    My first child is now 6 and I have known that he is different since he was born. He has intense emotional outbursts and an incredible attention span. Like me, he has trouble getting to sleep and staying that way. He taught himself to read before the age of 2 and is currently teaching himself fractions and multiplication. He can remember vast arrays of facts and dates and usually impresses any adult he comes into contact with … except those at his school. He was held back in kindergarten for behavioral/maturity issues. They don’t even know what grade level he is reading at because they won’t test beyond a certain point. They do not do much math so they are unaware of where he is. I don’t think they even care. We have met with them several times only to get the eye rolling and heavy sighs. I fear that we are now “those parents”. They put him in 2 different 1st grade classes for an hour each morning before his kindergarten class meets to appease us but his work isn’t counted and we get no progress notes. At the school’s Open House night, neither teacher could comment on the work he was doing in their respective rooms but only noticed his frustration with being imperfect. I am just now understanding what we are dealing with and coming to understand why I was so miserable, too. I’m frustrated that I cannot get them to understand and fear that he will lose interest.

    • Mahlyn,

      I know you felt like an outsider, so very different from others. School is not a good place for kids to be different, right? It is all about conformity.

      Held back in Kindergarten? So sitting in a classroom full of kids younger than him who are grade-levels below your son’s educational level is going to help him mature and learn better behavior? How about accelerating him into a class of older kids where he can see more mature behavior and be challenged and engaged? Ugh!

      Thankfully, you have tons of stories and information and evidence all on the internet to help you make the right decisions for your gifted kids, Mahlyn. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us moms!

  3. I’m seeing this a little late, I found your blog through the Gifted Challenges email newsletter. I have two children, both were in the GT program at our public school. Here a child enters the GT program first by being recommended by a parent or teacher, then taking a test (I think the COGAT test is the one that determines their eligibility for the program). The GT program is not publicized to parents, although a parent can find information on the school district website, so usually the teacher is the one who gives the recommendation.

    My oldest was never recommended by a teacher, but in 5th grade she asked me to recommend her because her friends were in GT and she wanted to join them. She passed the test and joined. She is not gifted, just intelligent. She fits in well at school and is not bored. She did well in GT because it was usually one project a year and was often artsy-craftsy. She is now a junior in high school and GT usually consists only of the opportunity to take one field trip a year and a list of recommended local activities the family can do on their own.

    My younger child was recommended by his teacher to take the GT test in 3rd grade, after scoring at an 8th grade level on a reading-level test. He was entered into the program, and I do feel that he is a gifted student as you describe. Their GT projects consisted of things like making a diorama to go with a story the class was reading, the same project other students could do for extra credit. In 6th grade, their GT project was for each GT student to write two sentences for the local newspaper on what they had learned that 6-week period. My son had trouble with that since it was only the first 6 weeks and he had not learned anything (he says the class had only reviewed the previous year’s material). They only gathered the GT kids together once every 6 weeks, during their lunch hour, so it was not a way for the kids to create a sense of community with each other. Every school’s GT coordinator was the school librarian, regardless of that person’s credentials. My son had happened to get a set of teachers who were not good for gifted students, and left for a college-prep private school after that first 6-week period of 6th grade. He is now a freshman and is very happy at private school, with challenging coursework and fellow students he enjoys spending time with.

    I have heard that in our state (Texas), the money allotted to public schools for Gifted and Talented programs is often mostly spent on high school AP and dual-credit courses. That is probably the case in our school district. It would benefit the high-achievers but not the truly gifted.

    • Fran, I agree. We see this all the time. It is just so difficult to accept that public schools would take a gifted child and only support them periodically with projects, and also believe that AP classes are sufficient gifted classes. And it is this type of scenario that makes it so difficult for gifted 2E or creatively gifted students to thrive in public school. Whether a student is gifted, high-achieving or average, if they don’t fit in the box given them, they won’t thrive.

      Wait, wait. I better get off my soapbox 😉

      Fran, thank you for sharing your story with us. It helps every parent who reads this blog to see the experience of others.

  4. ‘brains on fire’!!!! Best description I have ever heard. Thank you for a great article – to the point and easy to understand – great for sharing x

  5. As a former member of gifted programs through my 8th grade year, I can look back and recognize an immediate drop in interest in reading (for school or for pleasure) and school in general when I entered High School where there were no such programs. There were some advanced class options, such as AP courses, or honors, or whatever, but they were mostly geared towards, and hence, filled with, the over-achievers; the ones that were vying for valedictorian or whatever.

    I stopped caring, and graduated with a 3.3, despite taking several “weighted” classes. I feel this is, at least in part, due to the lack of stimulation or curriculum of interest that the gifted programs had supplied in my early years, as well as the camaraderie and cognitive expansion present from being around like-minded people. I had fewer people with whom I could relate on the “gifted” level, and therefore wasn’t really a member of any one social group. I largely ignore my high school years when looking back at the “shaping” years of my life. It was more something to be endured, rather than something to look forward to or grow in.

    Thank you for advocating the importance of being aware of these differences. I hope that the necessity of programs like that becomes more widely known and these kids are allowed environments that stimulate the type of growth they need.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. Your story is not uncommon, sadly. We need more people like yourself to share their stories of how the school system has failed our gifted learners. Many of us advocates are parents, but if we could bring in the voices of gifted learners such as yourself who can share how it feels to not be stimulated educationally and to stop caring about learning, it would sure make our advocacy stronger. Maybe then they would listen.

      I really appreciate you telling us all how it feels to be a miseducated gifted learner!

  6. Celi, Excellent points! So many people don’t really understand the difference between bright, high-achievers and gifted individuals. It is even more complicated when “gifted programs” combine them and refer to everyone in them as gifted. Thanks for a great article

    • I wanted to put out a post with the purpose of informing those who do not understand gifted children. It is so disheartening to hear our children called “special little snowflakes” or the parents of gifted children being criticized for advocating for their gifted children. I especially wanted to address the thinking that gifted ed. programs will diminish programs for special needs students. Thank you, Gail!

    • I so agree with your comment! I taught gifted students for 23 years primarily in a “pull-out” program. During the last 5 or so years, the guidelines were broadened to “cast a bigger net”! This created classes with IQ ranges from 118 to 150+. I privately referred to having to prepare for “genuine gifted” students and “remedial gifted” students. These lower IQ students tended to be the high-achievers.

      • Linda, thank you for sharing your experience with this. It is so important to get first-hand information from educators like you!

        This casting a bigger net hit home for me when I was told that a school district I live near has 25% of their students in their gifted program. Something is not right with this when we know it is estimated that only 2% – 5% of the population is gifted.

        Not only does this have families believe their child is gifted when they really are not, it reinforces the stereotype of gifted students all being high-achievers. Then those of us who have genuinely gifted children and need help with emotional and social issues, we are highly criticized for asking for more for students who are believed to have plenty going for them already.

        What can be done?

        Thank you, Linda, for sharing your thoughts on this!

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