What is Giftedness?

I'm often asked what I mean when I say someone is gifted. In truth, the term itself could cover many different things. The basic definition of being gifted is that someone has exceptional talent or natural ability. This definition could apply to those with a range of talents and abilities including athletics, music, performance, etc. Think about how many times you've heard someone say something like, "He's a natural athlete!" or "She's such a gifted musician!"


The range of gifted ability covers many areas. However, if you've spent time on this site already, you know that we tend to focus in on those who are intellectually gifted. Defining this subset of gifted people is even more complicated as there are many different definitions and some vary by state and regulating bodies (especially if services are involved). This variation is especially true for schools who provide gifted education, and states vary in their definitions quite substantially. For example, here are how some states define giftedness:

  • Idaho: "Gifted/talented children" means those students who are identified as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities that give evidence of high-performing capabilities in intellectual, creative, specific academic or leadership areas, or ability in the performing or visual arts and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.

  • North Carolina: Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) students perform or show the potential to perform at substantially high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experiences or environment. Academically or Intellectually Gifted students exhibit high-performance capability in intellectual areas, specific academic fields, or in both the intellectual areas and specific academic fields. Academically or Intellectually Gifted students require differentiated educational services beyond those ordinarily provided by the regular educational program.

  • Pennsylvania: Mentally gifted is defined as outstanding intellectual and creative ability the development of which requires specially designed programs or support services, or both, not ordinarily provided in the regular education program. (22 Pa. Code §16.1)

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea! There are many different definitions and nuances out there. I don't think there is one "right" answer.


That said, we generally define this population as those who have an advanced ability to think and understand that is higher than their peers. IQ tests are one way of assessing overall ability, but they may not capture all people equally. Indeed, there is research that shows that traditional IQ tests are culturally biased. Some people taking IQ tests may also have anxiety related to testing and may not perform according to their true abilities. There are load of other potential issues that I won't go into now, but suffice it to say that IQ tests are one common way to assess giftedness, but they are not infallible.


We know from years of research now that gifted individuals demonstrate some common traits:

  • Advanced thinking

  • Advanced comprehension

  • Excellent memory

  • Exceptional curiosity and thirst to learn

  • Emotional intensity

  • Strong sense of moral convictions

  • Elevated self-awareness

These traits are lifelong. While most of the definitions focus on school age children, we know that these traits continue throughout life. Adults may have developed more mature ways to manage these traits than they displayed as children, but the traits are still there.


So on this site, we look at giftedness from an intellectual perspective most often, with an appreciation for other forms of giftedness (and we'll try to get some more resources loaded on those forms in the near future for those who are interested!). We respect that intellectual giftedness is often measured via standardized methods including IQ testing, but we also know that this is not the final or only way to assess for giftedness. We understand that the traits that are common in giftedness often are part of us for our entire lives.





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