What Does “Gifted” Mean Anyway?

No one wants a child who is a “behavioral problem”.

The Tackler learns he is part Spiderman, and manages to climb up our walls...

You get glares out in public, peppered with some nods of sympathy. On bad days you count down the hours until your spouse gets home. You doubt your sanity. You doubt your parenting skills. You doubt your belief in your very self as your child finds buttons to push you didn’t know existed.

You want answers.

Why is your child this way? Is it you? Genetics? Did you zig when you should have zagged and now created the five year old snowball – rolling down the mountain-side at increasing speed until it becomes an out of control juggernaut destroying everything in its path.

I lamented these very issues with my good friend Mia last Saturday. She looked at me, dead serious and said words she’s mentioned before but I brushed off as wishful thinking.

“Your son is gifted. I’ve been reading about gifted kids and he fits most of the signs.”

For some reason this time, her words hit home.

Could The Tackler be gifted?

What the hell does “gifted” mean anyway?

Googling “gifted” resulted in more questions than answers. There isn’t a widespread consensus on what it means, only generalizations.

Many websites list traits of gifted kids (taken from giftedkids.about.com – I’ve italicized the ones my son is very strong in), such as:

Cognitive Traits

  • Very Observant 
  • Extremely Curious
  • Intense interests
  • Excellent memory
  • Long attention span
  • Excellent reasoning skills
  • Well-developed powers of abstraction, conceptualization, and synthesis
  • Quickly and easily sees relationships in ideas, objects, or facts
  • Fluent and flexible thinking
  • Elaborate and original thinking
  • Excellent problem solving skills
  • Learns quickly and with less practice and repetition
  • Unusual and/or vivid imagination

Social and Emotional Traits

  • Interested in philosophical and social issues
  • Very sensitive, emotionally and even physically
  • Concerned about fairness and injustice
  • Perfectionistic
  • Energetic
  • Well-Developed Sense of Humor
  • Usually intrinsically motivated
  • Relates well to parents, teachers and other adults

The site goes on to add:

Language Traits

  • Extensive Vocabulary
  • May Read Early
  • Reads Rapidly and Widely (my son does, if by “read’ you mean has a head in a book even though he doesn’t technically know how to read yet).
  • Asks “what if” questions

Additional Traits

  • Enjoys learning new things
  • Enjoys intellectual activity
  • Displays intellectual playfulness
  • Prefers books and magazines meant for older children
  • Skeptical, critical, and evaluative
  • Asynchronous development – (See any post on his behavior…)

The problem is, don’t most children fit at least half of this list? Or am I wrong?

I look at the list they have for infants and think about my son when under the age of two – he fits most of the characteristics:

  • Number and letter recognition early (before 18 months),
  • Counting obsession (he could count to ten in english, spanish, and german at when he turned two, and even higher in english),
  • Spatial relations (at fourteen months old, he would cry if we turned left out of our neighbor, but not when we turned right – right went by the fire station),
  • Required constant stimulation
  • Alert even as infant
  • Strong desire to explore, investigate, and master the environment (he defeated the child locks on the cabinets in less than a month – at 14 months old; he hated the inability to explore on his own, and the more mobile he became, the happier he was).
  • Perfectionism (he refused to draw until he was four and half – insisting we do it instead – because he lacked the motor skills to draw the images in his head)

Short of shelling out money to have my son tested, the idea my son is gifted remains just that – an idea.

But is it normal for a five year old to spend two and half hours exploring Google Earth and then have to drag him away from it, resulting in an almost-meltdown because he wasn’t through exploring?

The markers are kept in the kitchen - the trio blocks in his room. I have no idea how he discovered the two paired well.

Are markers typically used as building materials?

Or blocks used as “drawing” materials?

Or letters turned into images and stories?

To most outsiders, it is as though he suffers from “Oh! Shiny!” Syndrome – unable to focus on anything for any length of time. It reminds me of when he was a baby – the more activity around him, the happier he was. He hated lying down – always had to be upright where he could see.

But his focus when captured, is intense. He can’t read yet, but he spends at least an hour a day studying his books. Often the same books, over and over again. Ninety percent of them are nonfiction – about volcanoes and earthquakes, weather, the human body, space, geography… That is just his alone time with the books – it doesn’t even take into account when we read with him.

As a toddler, the only time silence did not equal trouble was if he was reading. It should be noted the upper left photo is him "reading" Bobbi's college biology book.

He surprises me at least once a week with his out-of-the-box thoughts, stories, or projects – and I consider myself at least moderately creative.

Could his acting out behavior be a result of boredom? Or just lack of discipline?

Even after writing this, I have no idea if my son truly is “gifted” – because he lacks any savant-like ability. He could just be “bright”.

To me, they are arbitrary terms developed to try to fit people into neat boxes – although since “gifted” takes so many various forms, it is a nice sized box. I only want to know because that box can help me increase the chance my son will continue his love of learning and exploration.

My biggest fear is someone stamping out the joy, the spark lighting him because standardized tests don’t care about ingenuity.

I just hope I find the right environment for nurturing his creativity and imagination, the right teacher to encourage and challenge him.

I hope martial arts will give him the ability to focus on more things – not just those he is interested in.

Or kindergarten could prove to be a nightmare.

About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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8 Responses to What Does “Gifted” Mean Anyway?

  1. We started Jack in martial arts when he was eight and I was beyond skeptical that it could make a difference; I was worried he’d embarrass me with his silliness and inability to settle down.

    I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is now seven years later and he’s THRIVING in an environment that stresses respect for authority, self-control, focus and ACHIEVEMENT. It’s flat-out awesome; but not all martial arts curriculum is the same so DEFINITELY do some research (as if you need more on your plate – ha!). Interview the perspective schools and talk to the instructors to see their philosophy.

    In our area, there are studios where a kid can earn a black belt by showing up for two or three years. This is not the case for us. It takes six to seven years of serious commitment and focus and hard work to earn black belt at our Tang Soo Do studio. That’s part of the process that makes it valuable.

    We originally looked into martial arts after Jack’s first grade teacher suggested we have him tested for ADD or ADHD because he was easily distracted in class. I asked his pediatrician who didn’t even bother with the paperwork for the test. He said, “Jack doesn’t have ADD. He’s gifted.”

    Okay then. At my kids’ elementary school, testing didn’t happen until 2nd or 3rd grade and it was used mostly for an “understanding” not as any real enrichment. Budget cuts are so extreme there is no money for kids who CAN learn; the focus is on those who struggle to learn in the first place.

    Of course this doesn’t take into account the fact that “gifted” children can become bored or discouraged or fall through the cracks. This is something my husband and I have remained vigilant about with both of our kids; making sure they are being appropriately challenged (by their schoolwork and by us) to keep them invested in learning; curious, motivated.

    I can assure you that eventually (mine are in 7th/8th grade respectively) school becomes challenging, no matter how bright the students. Jack and Karly have had honors classes available to them since 6th grade and beyond that, some kids even get sent to the local high school for SUPER-advanced classes we’ve opted out of. I don’t need Doogie Howser living with me – ha!

    Anyway, I know this doesn’t necessarily help with your choices regarding kindergarten, but I can assure you that K is just the (pre) beginning and no decision you make now will MAKE of BREAK your boy’s future in academics. It simply won’t. There may be setbacks and adjustments, but there is room for you all to learn and grow.

    I promise.

    I know it seems incredibly urgent and permanent right now; but when you look back, you’ll see there was flexibility in the situation. You will be fine. He will be excellent. Yes he will.

    • I love you, Julie, have I ever told you that? You always know what to say.

      So tell me, did you agonize over this when Jack and Karly started school, only now able to look back and see how it didn’t mean much in the scheme of things?

      My son is also in Tang Soo Do – I think they are on a 6 year schedule, but I think that is to your 2nd degree. I cannot attest if they just “pass” the kids, but I don’t think so. The tests are all “included” in the crazy expensive rates, so it eliminates a parent “not getting what they paid for” sort of thing. I think. We’ve only been to two classes.

      The do take away belts as a punishment, though they can earn them back. There is one child who is without one for whatever reason.

      They also have homework: checklists if they’ve been respectful, done the various chores.. Reading log, practice log (for martial arts).. They earn stickers for completing such things as additional rewards, and if they earn so much, they can earn a pizza party for their friends. The Tackler is very reward oriented, so it’s given him extra reason to pick up without arguing and practice reading or karate when he isn’t in the mood.

      I admit, I am a bit worried. The classes are so loud, his “oh! shiny!” hits a lot right now. I look at the forms and wonder how my crazy-why-do-what-they-tell-me-and-not-do-what-I-want 5 year old is going to learn them enough to get a belt, or if he’ll get discouraged.

      Right now he can’t even do a jumping jack – an exercise completely foreign to him until he started class.

      But he can climb my walls.

  2. Annie says:

    My son Speedy is “gifted”…although I hate that word. Here in our school they say “He qualified for Enhanced Learning”. When he was 5 I was frustrated (because he was bored, having a little anxiety, and crying everyday about school) and ALMOST home schooled him. Even though he was in a special advanced reading group he was still struggling with the mundane moments in the rest of the day. But after deep, deep reflection we held off with home schooling. It’s a long story, but it worked out for the best. His enhanced learning program is great and things become MUCH better for “gifted” students around 7-8ish years old. Kindergarten to him was torture.

    Julie is so right. School eventually picks up the pace and more opportunities for those that are needing “more” are there. In kindergarten it just isn’t. Speedy was tested in 2nd grade (at my persistence!!) and the teachers (that I had to push around about the testing) were blown away by his scores. This qualified him for extra programs in our state.

    So in short. Your kid is awesome. You are awesome. The fact that you wrote this piece says that you are “on it”. 🙂

  3. I have one child who has tested accademicly gifted and another who is visually gifted. At least in California public schools you can request your child be tested but does it mean anything in the end? they say it’s good to have in their school records. My son went to private school but is every bit as bright, however he was never tested. I sometimes think it would have given him more confidence when he was younger, but who knows.

  4. Running from Hell with El says:

    He is gifted. I have three children of my own and your tackler reminds me of my middle son (who is gifted). But don’t get too tied into standardized tests because, as you noted, they do not capture all of an individual’s gifts. Just keep doing what you’re doing. I have the sincere belief after reading this post that you need no advice–you’re doing just fine giving your little one what he needs to maximize his potential. So what I really mean to say is good on ya and good on The Tackler.

  5. Rob Rubin says:

    Hey there. My 5 year old was just diagnosed with Aspergers. He is gifted, in fact we had his IQ tested when we had him tested for autism. (His IQ was through the roof.) But he has social and behavioral issues that other 5 year olds don’t – like he has a meltdown if you tell him it’s time to clean up if he hasn’t finished a drawing. He has become more scared of his surroundings and needs someone to go with him to get dressed in his room, and other stuff. It’s a constant battle because academically he is like a 15 year old and emotionally he is like a 2 year old.

    We’ve been doing play therapy and now are switching to someone who has better experience with Aspergers now that we have the diagnosis.

    I should also point out that we homeschool. We are not the religious freak types – like Rick Santorum – but we do it because we feel he wouldn’t excel in public school. He does do lots of activities with other homeschoolers, usually ending up in a crying fit when it’s time to go home, but we’re trying.

    Thankfully, for me, writing my humor blog gives me a release.

  6. startraci says:

    I struggle with these questions to with my daughter. She is so bright and has a vocabulary well beyond her years but her visual recognition isn’t as strong. She creates these elaborate stories but my son is the builder. So I’m not sure that she fits and I haven’t decided if I want her to know. At the end of the day, we hope we do right by them. Good luck with the martial arts.

  7. Jacque says:

    I am so glad you realize that putting kids in their “box” is a curse as well as, maybe, a gift. If you’re looking for a box, I would say, put him in the gifted one!! Why hesitate to believe in him when all signs point to yes? What’s the worst that can happen? I really don’t see the downside. If he is, you’re supporting his growth. If he’s not by some stupid testing standard out there, who cares? And you’re still nurturing his strengths.
    What is he good at? When you see him grasp a concept, make it more challenging. What is something that is not a strength? Start smaller, simpler. When he grasps a concept, make it more challenging. When he gets that, make it more challenging. This is important because gifted children often have things come so easily that they don’t learn how to work for things the way other kids do. They spend so much of their early lives succeeding that they miss the “try try again” part. Definately keep up the challenge! But I think this should be done for every child once they “get” something. So does gifted really matter? I think it is much more important to recognize strengths, weaknesses, and the preferred style of learning. Then you know where you’ve been, where you’re going, and how you can get there.
    What about school? School will try to put him in a box. But school’s box is not always the right box. And if you’re worried that that one may be negaitve (troublemaker), then all the more reason for your box to be positive. Also, as a parent, I think it our job not to determine whether our children are gifted but how. All children have strengths and weaknesses. Who’s to say a nurtured strength can’t turn into a gift, even if the child had to work at it?

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