In writing about Gifted children, it’s important to define what that means. Even among experts on the topic, there are different definitions for this. It is generally used to designate a child of high intelligence or outstanding ability on one or more areas. Beyond that, you will see different definitions depending on the source. Some professionals define “gifted” as an intelligence test score above 130; or two or more standard deviations above the norm; or the top 2.5%. Others define “gifted” based on scholastic achievement, such as a child who works 2 or more grade levels above his or her chronological age. Still others describe giftedness in terms of accomplishment: adult-level work while chronologically a child.
Regardless of the specific definition, a common hallmark of gifted children is asynchronous development. This means that their skills and abilities in different areas will develop at noticeably different rates. All children develop in some areas faster than others; for gifted children this difference is often more extreme, and causes more problems. The result is that often these children will have a very distinct experience of being different from their peers. They may not know, however, what makes them different or why their peers don’t like them. The higher a child’s intelligence, the more extreme this feeling of being “an outsider” may become.
In addition, the asynchronous development can be accompanied by a heightened intensity or concentration, which may be confused with ADHD as it can appear that the child is preoccupied and unable to focus on a given task. Some studies also show gifted youth to be at higher than average risk for eating disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, and other difficulties Boys and girls also often manifest their giftedness very differently. Boys tend to demonstrate their intelligence even at the cost of peer acceptance, but they may simultaneously show physical or social clumsiness. Girls often learn to camouflage their intelligence in order to maintain their social network. These differences in presentation can make giftedness challenging to detect.
To an adult, this can be confusing. The child’s advanced cognitive abilities can lead to the temptation to treat them as more of an adult. Gifted children can often converse on a very advanced level. However, that does not mean that they comprehend the human or emotional significance of facts at their disposal. It’s important to distinguish between mental ability and emotional maturity based on experience. It’s also important to tolerate and demonstrate understanding of a child that may have social needs and skills that appear to be well below their intellectual level. This may be a matter of biology, where the child’s brain can easily master concepts or facts, yet the brain centers that process social skills and emotions may be under-developed.
Their unique presentation can make social life very difficult for the gifted child. Young children tend to make friends that match their emotional level, not their intellectual level, so they may seek playmates that seem very mis-matched to an outsider. They may seek out other children that are perceived as “misfits” or “outsiders” because that is how they currently identify.
To summarize, gifted children face unique developmental challenges. Balancing their need for advanced intellectual stimulation with their often overlooked and disproportionately less advanced social needs can be a challenge for parents. Finding peer groups for them, either within their school or in summer enrichment programs, can make a huge difference in helping a gifted child develop a healthier self-image. If you suspect that your child may be gifted, seek support. You might find it helpful to talk to a professional with a background in working with gifted clients. You may also want to join an organization devoted to understanding and nurturing gifted children, in order to build a support system for yourself and your child.