The Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland - Why should we Identify Gifted Children?


The Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland

Why should we Identify Gifted Children?

“All children have a right of access to the highest-quality education appropriate to their needs. This includes children whose disabilities or circumstances inhibit their effective participation in the education that is normally provided for children of their age group…It is important that a range of educational provision is available that is flexible enough to cater for the special needs of individual children at the various stages of their development.”

(Primary School Curriculum, 1999, p.29)

Identification is no easy feat, but nevertheless its necessity outweighs the complexity. Better a student be thought gifted and proven not, than never to be considered gifted at all. (Indeed, if approached correctly, the child need never know the reason for the assessment). The Betts and Neihart (1988) Types (See Identification Across the Age Ranges) outlined some of the long term effects of undetected giftedness in characteristically different gifted children, and illustrated that the consequences are predominantly negative. In what is perceived as an unsympathetic educational environment, five out of the six Types endure feelings of frustration, low self-esteem, isolation, difference, increasing disconnection from education and learning, negative social behaviour, and unfulfilled potential. These profiles show how identification is the critical first step to ensuring that the educational needs of gifted children are met.

The principal reason why gifted children ought to be identified is so they may obtain a better, more suitable education (Hanson, 1992). Like all children, those with high academic ability deserve to be challenged, motivated, encouraged, and given the opportunity to learn at a pace and depth that is appropriate for them. The widely believed myth is that gifted children will succeed because their superior academic abilities will carry them through. Linda Brody, director of the Study of Exceptional Talent, notes that “the assumption is that gifted kids, because they are smart, will be able to make it regardless of their setting, but that is not always the case.”

What are very often overlooked are the social and emotional aspects that strongly influence the educational needs of all children. Terman and Oden (1959) found that some high ability students never made effective use of their superior ability, because factors other than intelligence affected their life success. Whybra (2000) identified the major needs of gifted and talented children as being recognition of their ability and understanding of their social and emotional needs. In allowing gifted children to maximise their potential four issues need to be addressed:

  1. Firstly, gifted children need appropriate academic challenge. Too often their capabilities are not extended by the curriculum, leading to boredom, dissatisfaction and aggravation. Students will only become motivated and inspired, by challenging material and learning at a level that is apposite to their ability. Research which shows the physiological impact of children not experiencing a curriculum appropriate to their ability (Tomlinson & Layne-Kalbfleisch, 1998). Where a child encounters material that is unchallenging the brain fails to release appropriate levels of dopamine, noradrenalin and serotonin, all of which are required for learning. Externally, this manifests itself as apathy.

    “The amassed understandings about how the brain works have added to our considerable research base on the importance of developing and delivering curriculum and instruction that are responsive to individual learning needs.” Tomlinson and Layne-Kalbfleisch (1998, p.53)

    This demonstrates the importance of identification of specific learning needs so that gifted children may access a curriculum that considers their special educational requirements.
  2. Secondly gifted children need to feel they are valued by their education system. They need to experience a place where they are encouraged to reach their potential and allowed to develop their natural curiosity. Most gifted and talented children demonstrate an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Too often their questions remain forever unanswered because they fall outside the confines of the mainstream curriculum. In this environment the gifted child will feel discouraged and may never prosper. Research shows the importance of the classroom being perceived as a safe environment (Tomlinson & Layne-Kalbfleisch, 1998). In a space where children feel intimidated, threatened or rejected, an excess of noradrenalin is produced and results in a fight-flight response. This can manifest itself in the form of either misbehaviour or withdrawal. This response is neither intentional, nor invented. It is a natural response when the brain’s primary response is self-protection and not learning.
  3. Thirdly it is essential that gifted children find a peer group amongst whom they experience equivalence in terms of their academic ability. This point is frequently misinterpreted by educators and the media as meaning that high ability children cannot make friends. An erroneous stereotype has cultivated itself of the isolated student who struggles to maintain social relationships and is obsessed with academia. The truth is that many of gifted students can become isolated because they learn at a rate different to many of their peers. Closer examination of a typical classroom reveals that high ability children are very much in the minority. In any given classroom 68% of children will fall into the average ability range (IQ between 85 and 115), 14% into the below average (IQ 70 to 85) and 14% in the above average range (IQ 115 to 130). Just 2% of children fall into the very high range (IQ 130+), which in a classroom of 30 children equates to just one child. This is illustrated in fig. 2.1. At an early age they may have an extensive vocabulary which other young children may find difficult to relate to and this can lead to feelings of isolation. The most critical aspect for gifted students is to discover that there are young people out there who think like they do, who are interested in the same ideas and who learn in similar ways (Kolloff and Moore, 1989). When they encounter peers who share a similar academic ability, they find individuals with whom they can discuss their interests on a corresponding level, without having to veil their ability.
    Fig. 2.1 Wechsler Intelligence Scale (Encarta online, 2005)
    Fig. 2.1 Wechsler Intelligence Scale (Encarta online, 2005)
  4. The final need of a gifted student is to be accepted as an individual. Too often intellectually talented children are made to conform to fit into mainstream schooling (Gross, 1999). So often the case, it has coined the phrase “cutting down the tall poppies” (Gross, 1999). Gifted individuals have a unique way of looking at things and of absorbing new information. Critical to them reaching their potential gifted students must be permitted to learn in the way that comes naturally to them.

Along with the ethical and moral reasons, there is also a statutory obligation that compels schools to provide an education that affords each child the chance to reach their potential. Enumerated in the Education Act (1998), educational institutions need to cater for the needs of all children, particularly those with special educational needs. It states that:

9. —A recognised school shall provide education to students which is appropriate to their abilities and needs and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, it shall use its available resources to—
  • (a) ensure that the educational needs of all students, including those with a disability or other special educational needs, are identified and provided for.

This places an onus on those closely involved in the education of any child to ensure that their special educational needs are first of all identified and secondly provided for. (The Act was since clarified to state that it is the responsibility of the Board of Management). It is therefore their duty to be keenly attuned to high ability indicators or characteristics, so that appropriate interventions are installed in time to prevent the evolution of destructive reactions that impede future educational advancement and achievement.


  • (Primary School Curriculum, 1999, p.29)
  • Betts, G., and Niehart, M. (1988). “Profiles of the Gifted and Talented.” Gifted Child Quarterly, 1988.
  • Gross, M.U.M. (1999). Tall Poppies: Highly Gifted Children in the Early Years. Roeper Review,
  • Hansen, J.B. (1992). Discovering highly gifted students. Understanding Our Gifted, Vol.4, No.4, p.23-25.
  • Kolloff , P.B. & Moore, A.D. (1989). Effects of Summer Programs on the Self Concept of Gifted Children. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, Vol.12, No.4, p.268-76.
  • Terman, L. M., & Oden, M. H. (1959). The gifted group at mid-life: Thirty-five years' follow-up of the superior child. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Tomlinson, C.A. & Layne-Kalbfleisch, M.L. (1998). Teach Me, Teach My Brain: A Call for Differentiated Classrooms. Educational Leadership, Vol.56, No.3, p.52-55.
  • Whybra, J. (2000). Extension and Enrichment Programmes: a place I could fit in. In Stopper, M.J., (Ed)., Meeting the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted and Talented Children, London, David Fulton Publishers, pp. 99-118.
  • (Clarke, 1988, cited in Encounters 2002-03)