Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to tell if your child is intellectually gifted

This is a follow-up of the post I wrote on my experience as a parent of a child in the Singapore Gifted Education Programme (GEP). Crucial to effectiveness of the programme is whether the child is truly gifted, which of course, begs the question, "how do I know if my child is gifted?"

First, I want to state up front that the info I have is mostly taken from this book "A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children" by Webb, Gore, Amend and DeVries. This is truly an exceptional book - it is a must-have for all parents of gifted kids. It's well-researched and answered all the questions I had clearly and comprehensively. I've read other books on gifted kids, but none even came close to matching this one - it gets the gold star.

Some basic information (and common misconceptions):

There are many types of giftedness.
Gift in the arts, in sports, in leadership, etc. For purposes of the GEP, we are refering specifically to the intellectually gifted. However, while as a group, these kids have high IQs, they are not necessarily super in every academic subject.

Giftedness is generally inborn.
In other words, you're either gifted or you're not. However, environment does play a role. A supportive and nurturing environment up to the ages of 7 or 8 can increase IQ scores of 20 points or even more. But generally, test scores for giftedness will remain pretty much stable by the time the child is 8. Because of this, the recommended age for intelligence tests in schools is 8 or 9, otherwise time would have been wasted with gifted kids having their talents unidentified and untapped (The Singapore MOE has probably read all the research, that's why they do the GEP tests in P3!)

Being gifted and being "smart" is not the same thing.
People have often argued that the GEP is discriminatory because there are late bloomers who do pretty well later on in life. I think this arises because there is a confusion between being gifted and being smart. It's probably safe to say that all gifted children are smart, but not all smart children are gifted. Research shows that in general, about 1% of each cohort is intellectually gifted. Again, MOE follows this closely, the top 1% of each P3 cohort who take the selection tests are offered the GEP.

Those are the basic parameters. So we go back to the question, "how do I know if my child is gifted?" Here are but some of the common characteristics as listed in the book mentioned above, and my own experience with Lesley-Anne (ala how I was finally convinced she's gifted).

1) Strong verbal abilities from a young age. Many gifted kids start talking and reading early. Some on the other hand, start later but when they do, it's with astonishing maturity and complexity. Lesley-Anne didn't speak until she was way over 2 years old, but then she spoke in whole sentences and her understanding of instructions was very good even at age 1. In pre-school, her teacher commented that she "spoke like an adult". Gifted kids also usually have large vocabularies and can distinguish between similar words like "angry" or "irritated".

2) Overactive imagination and creativity. Gifted kids tend to like experimenting and can flit from one interest to another. They can live in an imaginary world with imaginary friends and imaginary pets. When she was 5, Lesley-Anne told me she had a new best friend in school called Sally. I got curious when she told me Sally was the same height, same weight, had the same haircut as her. I called the school and found out there was no such person!

3) Extreme sensitivity and intensity. This one really hit home when I read about it. I was despairing over Lesley-Anne because she was truly the most sensitive child I had ever come across. Every word could be deemed a criticism. She would be hurt by seemingly harmless gestures and any sort of unfairness would cause an intense reaction. When she was about 3 and watching Bambi on video, she burst into tears when Bambi's mother was shot and kept asking me why the hunter had to shoot her. From then, everytime she watched the cartoon, she would fast forward that scene. Even today, when she has learned to reign her emotions better, I would get comments from her piano teacher: "Aiyoh, just told her what she played wrong and the tears started flowing! I can't bring myself to scold her."

4) Super learning ability and memory. The difference between gifted and smart children are that while both can learn new things quickly, the smart child tends to learn age-appropriate things. Gifted children, on the other hand, have been known to grasp concepts way beyond their years. One of Lesley-Anne's classmates had finished reading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings several times over by age 9 and at 10, was poring over adult astronomy reference books. They also tend to have great memories. I remember watching Jumanji on tv with Lesley-Anne when she was 7. Before the next scene, she would tell me what would happen and even spout the exact words the actor would say. All this she remembered from watching the show ONCE when she was 4.

5) Need for reasoning and rationality. Gifted children tend to question everything and they need to have answers that satisfy their intelligence. The worst possible thing I can say to Lesley-Anne when she questions my instruction is: "Because I said so." This sort of autocratic answer with no logic upsets her, she needs to see the reasoning behind it. Once, she accidentally scalded her fingers on hot soup. When the pain had not abated after putting ice on her fingers, I offered to give her a dose of paracetamol. She immediately asked to know how paracetamol would work since it was to her, a medicine for fever. When I said it numbed the pain sensors, she questioned how it would know to numb the ones in her fingers and not anywhere else. All this while she was in pain. Basically, gifted kids are unlikely to take anything at face value, they will question you to death if necessary.

There are several other characteristics, but it would be too long to list everything. This is a summarised version. If you want to know more, I really recommend you get the book!

Finally, I just want to stress that giftedness is a blessing. If your child has it, embrace it. But he cannot claim credit for it anymore than a child born into a rich family can boast about having earned his wealth. And at the end of the day, it's not about possession but what you do with the giftedness that counts.


Katharine said...

Thank you Monica, this entry is truly insightful to both my mum and I. If you happen to chance upon a book or site about the growth and development of gifted kids into adulthood please forward it my way.
If you would like you can contact me at

Albert said...

I read this article again. I really agree what you talk about. It lets me recall my daughter's story. My daughter can meet some. She is good at memory and logic, and she was able to figure out a geometry when she was just 4-5 years old. But we never think she is talent. Actually, I also called her stupid last night.;) Now she doesn't care what I say because she is at GEP school and she is top pupils there too.

Anonymous said...

I will surely take a look at the book..thanks. Yes it is truly difficult to raise a gifted child, my 10 year old son has almost all of the characteristic but the one that I find most difficult to handle is his extreme sensitivity on ordinary events that happen around him, words that are said and even small things that could irritate him (the sound of the ticking of the clock, the way the socks does not fit snugly on his feet, small threads that keep poking from his shirt etc etc etc). Before he was identified as gifted by a pschologist here in Canada and my further research into 'giftedness', I was at a lost as to why he is behaving so irrationally and shared many scolding moments with him for being so unreasonable.

Hopefully the book will be my 'saviour' to help me understand my son better. Maybe it would also help to understand my younger 6 year old son who has shown some signs of giftedness characteristic and help him through his 'socialising problem' at school.

Your blog and input is indeed one of the interesting ones that I have stumbled upon.


monlim said...

Nina: Happy to have helped! If you have a very sensitive child, read this post I wrote The book was recommended by a reader and it has helped me understand Lesley-Anne's sensitivities tremendously.

Anonymous said...

Wow your post on the other link is wonderful....almost everything that you have picked out from the book is describing my son!!! I have two books to get and am looking forward to being able to help my son cope with his HSC.

Thanks again.


Marjorie said...

Hi Monica, I just stumbled on your blog when trawling the net to find out more on "giftedness" as I think my 3 year old son could be gifted in some areas. Even at this age, I'm already finding it difficult to find a suitable school for him as he is advanced in some areas and slower in others, and somehow even preschools here seem unable to customise to the individual child. I've been reading all your blogs and I'm so glad that you share your many experiences - I"m an ENTP too! I never knew that that would mold the way we "mummy" our kids. Actually, if you don't mind, I have several questions on giftedness if I could email directly to you, I would appreciate that lots. My email address is Thanks!

Anonymous said...

i often wondered if i could have got into the gifted course. my mum told me to flunk the course - not sure why either. there were a lot of family issues happening and i was very bothered by everything. maybe she thought being in gifted would mean more undue pressure on me. no one knows. but anyway, i think MOE should clamp down on bogus tuition centres teaching students how to pass the gifted test. the amount parents spend on their kids, and the stress on their kids, really!! education should not be commercialized, not to this extend. uncle tom.

Bernice said...

Thankyou for enlightening me. My second son show signs of giftedness and everything you wrote just hits home. I always tell my husband that I'm mentally drained at the end of the day because of the countless questions that my son throws at me. I just sign my son up for premium plus membership at the national library yesterday as I find it cheaper than to buy books for him. Now he gets to borrow 16 books on his card without using ours. He was disappointed that he couldn't borrow 26 books at one go. If only his brothers read a fraction of what he reads. His hunger for knowledge is way beyond his years. He's 9 this year. I'm not sure how he'll do for his GEP exam next week as I didn't prepare him. Out of my 3 boys. He's the only one that I don't need to check up on.

Anonymous said...

If one feels her child is gifted, is there any programmes to go through to diagnose the results? Any recommendations where to get the diagnose?


monlim said...

I think there are psychological tests you can sign your child up for, with some child psychologists. I don't know the names of specific ones. Personally, I would examine the intent of putting your child through this. If he/she isn't having any behavioural or emotional difficulties that you suspect might be related to giftedness, labelling a child as such from an early age may not necessarily be a good thing.

Phua May said...

hi hi,
thank you for sharing....very enlightening.

I have a 8 yo daughter. She has many traits of a intellectually gifted kid. Hubby n I noticed that she is very different from children of her age ever since she was 1yo n are learning things 2 to 3 grades in advanced. We thought wow....she must be gifted.

But lately, she seems not to be able to grasp, perform n relate things to us in a way we think gifted kids's as if she has 'lost' her smarts or smarts got inhibited. Is this possible in gifted kids? In your experience dealing with your daughter and your knowledge through much reading you have done, can this actually happen?

thanks thanks

monlim said...

May: Kids can be gifted in many different areas and one child would not be gifted in every area. IMO, I feel that the "giftedness" label can have a big backlash, ie once you think your child is gifted, you start to expect her to perform in certain ways and that places a lot of pressure on the child as well.

To me, understanding that your child may be gifted in certain areas eg. reading is helpful so that you can offer support for her to develop that capability in a way that's more interesting to her. But where she doesn't seem to be advanced, then I would just leave it as it is.

Once giftedness starts being a label which your child needs to live up to, it can be more of a liability than a gift, so I would suggest just going with the flow. It's also the reason why I never got Lesley-Anne tested for her IQ because I didn't want her to be defined by and burdened by a number.

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

I have read a little bit on gifted kids/adults and I think that something helpful I learned was that giftedness is better understood in terms of creativity. Gifted individuals can have a different perspective and think of creative solutions. If we view it from this perspective, it relieves some of the pressure to expect them to perform or achieve. I also believe that it would ease the resentment or jealousy and help people appreciate those that are gifted more.

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