About Giftedness

Who are the Gifted?

You may be wondering whether or not your child is gifted, or whether you yourself are gifted. It is especially confusing since there are many definitions of giftedness, and many characteristics associated with giftedness. There is also a wide range of giftedness, and many ways in which giftedness presents itself in an individual.

Categories of definitions generally include IQ definitions (usually 125 or 130 cutoff), percentage of population definitions (ranging from the top 1% to the top 15%), talent definitions (music, science, leadership, etc.), and creativity definitions (based on creative products or creativity tests).

Here’s one simple way to think about the definition: “If a child is gifted, one or more of the following phrases will most likely describe their gifts and talents: the gifts and talents are comparatively rare, appear considerably earlier, and/or are significantly more advanced.” (Rogers, 2001)

Most lists of characteristics of gifted children include some or all of the following: exceptional reasoning ability, divergent thinking/creativity abilities, rapid learning rate, keen sense of justice, complex thought processes, passion for learning, capacity for reflection, need for mental stimulation, perfectionism, sense of humor, intensity, non-conformity, powers of concentration, vivid imagination, sensitivity, empathy, acute self-awareness, intensity, and tendency toward introversion. (Silverman, 1993, p. 52-53)

The following description of giftedness speaks of asynchronous development:

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modification in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991)

This basically means that different parts of gifted children often develop at different rates, and this can cause difficulties. We like this description because of its emphasis on the whole child, including the social and emotional aspects of a child’s well-being.

Another important definition is the Vermont definition of Gifted and Talented Children, which the Vermont Legislature passed into law in 1996:

(a) “Gifted and talented children” means children identified by professionally qualified persons who, when compared to others of their age, experience or environment, exhibit capability of high performance in intellectual, creative or artistic areas, possess an unusual capacity for leadership or excel in specific academic fields.

(b) It is the intent of the general assembly that those who provide educational services to children be encouraged to apply for any available funding that will help to provide teacher training and other services for the benefit of gifted and talented children.

(c) Nothing in this section shall create an additional entitlement to education or other services.

Sec. 1. 16 V.S.A. (13)

The good news about the passage of this law is that Vermont officially recognizes that gifted children exist. The bad news is that there is no mandate for services or funding for anything related to gifted education. This is unfortunate since there is evidence that the characteristics of gifted children-such as asynchronous (uneven) development, rapid learning rate, need for mental stimulation, intensities, and sensitivities-are different enough from other children that accommodations in education and counseling are necessary. (The Columbus Group, 1991)

For the primary source on Vermont legislation, go to (you will leave our webpage):  http://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/16/001/00013  

It is important to note that there are many children who are “twice-exceptional” (for more information, visit hoagiesgifted.org and sengifted.org), meaning that they are both gifted and have a learning difficulty. Some of these include dyslexia, AD/HD, Aspergers Syndrome, visual processing problems, autism, or sensory integration issues. Often these children are unidentified as being either gifted or having any difficulties, because the two characteristics hide each other.

Also important is the fact that gifted children come from all socioeconomic classes, all races and ethnic groups, all religions, and all types of families. All children have the right to learn and grow, and this includes gifted children. Helping gifted children learn and grow is a substantial part of the mission of the Green Mountain Center for Gifted Education.

Characteristics of Giftedness

One great list of gifted characteristics is the following one, which is found on pp. 52-53 of Linda Silverman’s book, Counseling the Gifted and Talented. For each intellectual characteristic listed on the left, there is a corresponding personality characteristic listed on the right. Each of these characteristics can be an incredible positive force in a gifted child’s life. Many of these characteristics can also lead to problems for gifted children. (See gifteddevelopment.com for more information about Silverman’s work.)

Related Intellectual and Personality Characteristics of Gifted Children:


  • Exceptional reasoning ability
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Rapid learning rate
  • Facility with abstraction
  • Complex thought processes
  • Vivid imagination
  • Early moral concern
  • Passion for learning
  • Powers of concentration
  • Analytical thinking
  • Divergent thinking/creativity
  • Keen sense of justice
  • Capacity for reflection


  • Insightfulness
  • Need to understand
  • Need for mental stimulation
  • Perfectionism
  • Need for precision/logic
  • Excellent sense of humor
  • Sensitivity/empathy
  • Intensity
  • Perseverance
  • Acute self-awareness
  • Nonconformity
  • Questioning
  • Tendency toward introversion

(Silverman, 1993, pp. 52-53)

Dabrowski’s “Over-excitabilities”

Another way of looking at giftedness is in terms of intensities. A Polish man named Dabrowski had a theory that gifted people have greater capacities to respond to various stimuli, and that indeed many gifted people have “over-excitabilities” of five types: intellectual, imaginational, psychomotor, emotional, and sensual. He believed that the strength of these over-excitabilities, combined with special talents and abilities, constitutes an individual’s “developmental potential.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIntellectual over-excitability is characterized by a propensity to ask probing questions, to solve problems, to learn, and to think theoretically. This might involve a capacity for sustained intellectual effort, avid reading, detailed planning, introspection, and thinking about thinking.

Imaginational over-excitability involves free play of imagination and spontaneous imagery as an expression of emotional tension. Common expressions include frequent use of image and metaphor, facility for invention and fantasy, elaborate dreams, detailed visual recall, and tendency to dramatize.

A person with a psychomotor over-excitability has a surplus of energy, and a psychomotor expression of emotional tension. This might include rapid speech, compulsive talking and chattering, nervous habits such as nail-biting or tics, preference for fast games or sports, acting out, workaholism, compulsive organizing, and competitiveness.

Emotional over-excitability is revealed by intensity of feeling, somatic expressions such as tense stomach and blushing, inhibition (timidity or shyness), fears and anxieties, concern for others, and sensitivity in relationships. It can also involve self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, and depressive and suicidal moods.

Sensual over-excitability includes sensory (seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing) pleasure, and sensual expression of emotional tension, such as overeating, sexual overindulgence, buying sprees, and wanting to be in the limelight. People with this over-excitability might also appreciate the aesthetics of beautiful objects, writing styles and words.

Two other sources of information about definitions and characteristics of giftedness are Davis and Rimm’s book, Education of the Gifted and Talented (1998), and Karen Roger’s book, Re-Forming Gifted Education (2001).

For further definitions of and information about giftedness, please see www.nagc.org and www.hoagiesgifted.org.