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What We Have Learned About Gifted Children
1979 - 2002

by Linda Silverman, Ph.D., Director
Gifted Development Center

Editor's note: for a newer version of this article, visit What We Have Learned About Gifted Children 1979-2007 on the Gifted Development Center website...

The Gifted Development Center has been in operation since June, 1979, and we have assessed nearly 4,000 children in the last 22 years. By concentrating totally on the gifted population, we have acquired a considerable amount of knowledge about the development of giftedness. In 1994-1995, three noted researchers spent their sabbaticals with us to assist us in coding our clinical data to enable statistical analysis: Drs. Frank Falk and Nancy Miller of the University of Akron, and Dr. Karen Rogers of the University of St. Thomas. We have found more than 670 children above 160 IQ and have entered massive data on 241 cases-the largest sample in this IQ range ever to be studied! Here are some of the highlights of what we have learned so far.

  1. There are far more exceptionally gifted children in the population than anyone realizes. As of January, 2002, we have found 721 children with IQ scores above 160, 169 above 180 IQ, and 39 above 200. If the normal curve of distribution were accurate, there should only be 59 children above 180 IQ in the United States, since this group represents the proverbial "one in a million." Only two comprehensive studies have been published to date on children in these ranges. Leta Hollingworth (1942) found 12 children above 180 IQ between 1916 and 1939 and Miraca Gross (1993) found 15 Australian children with IQ scores above 160.

  2. Approximately 18% of the 4,000+ children we have assessed in the last 22 years are exceptionally gifted. The statistics for the last seven years are astonishing:


      Total Number Assessed

      Number Above 160






























  3. More boys than girls are referred for assessment for giftedness, and the situation is getting worse, instead of better. From 1979 to 1989, 57% of the children assessed were male, and 43% were female. From 1989 to 2002, 61% of those referred have been male and 39% female. This matches closely the percentages of males and females found in the highest IQ ranges: 60% male, 40% female. And the most gifted girls are less often referred in the last 12 years than in the previous ten years. In the first decade, the number of profoundly gifted girls nearly equaled the number of boys, even in the 180+ IQ range. In the second decade, many more profoundly gifted boys than girls are being brought for assessment. Where are the girls?


    Males above
    160 IQ
    Females above
    160 IQ
    June 1979 - June 1989 89 85 174
    July 1989 - Jan. 2002 342 205 547
    July 1979 - Jan. 2002 431 290 721

  4. Gifted girls and gifted boys have different coping mechanisms and are likely to face different problems. Gifted girls hide their abilities and learn to blend in with other children. In elementary school they direct their mental energies into developing social relationships; in junior high school they are valued for their appearance and sociability rather than for their intelligence. Gifted boys are easier to spot, but they are often considered "immature" and may be held back in school if they cannot socialize with children their own age with whom they have no common interests.

  5. Mildly, moderately, highly and profoundly gifted children are as different from each other as mildly, moderately, severely and profoundly retarded children are from each other, but the differences among levels of giftedness are rarely recognized.

  6. Brothers and sisters are usually within 5 or 10 points in measured ability. We studied 148 sets of siblings and found that over 1/3 were within 5 points of each other, over 3/5 were within 10 points, and nearly 3/4 were within 13 points. When one child in the family is identified as gifted, the chances are great that all members of the family are gifted.

  7. Second children are recognized as gifted much less frequently than first-borns or only children. They exhibit different characteristics from their older siblings and are less likely to be achievement oriented. Even the first-born identical twin has a greater chance of being accepted in a gifted program than the second-born!

  8. Parents' IQ scores, when known, are often within 10 points of their children's; even grandparents' IQ scores are often within 10 points of their grandchildren's.

  9. Giftedness can be observed in the first three years by rapid progression through the developmental milestones. These milestones should be documented and taken seriously as evidence of giftedness. Early identification of advanced development is as essential as early identification of any other exceptionality. Early intervention promotes optimal development.

  10. Gifted children's IQ scores become depressed at approximately 9 years of age due to ceiling effects of the test. The ideal age for testing is between 4 and 8.

  11. Parents are excellent identifiers of giftedness in their children: 84% of the children whose parents feel that they exhibit 3/4 of the Characteristics of Giftedness in our intake procedure test in the superior or gifted range. Over 95% show giftedness in at least one area, but are asynchronous in their development, and their weaknesses depress their IQ scores.

  12. Modern norms for IQ tests are biased against gifted children. The same raw score yields an IQ score for average children approximately 8 points lower on the 1991 norms than on the 1960 norms, whereas for gifted children the difference is 31 points—a loss of one IQ point per year. Because of their low ceilings, none of the current tests provides valid IQ scores for highly gifted children. Riverside Publishing intends to correct this inequity in the Stanford-Binet V, due out in 2003. Until then, it is permissible to use the old Stanford-Binet (Form L-M) to assess children in the gifted range.

  13. Many cases of underachievement are linked to chronic early ear infections (9 or more in the first three years), with residual effects of auditory sequential processing deficits and attentional problems. Spelling, arithmetic, handwriting, rote memorization, attention, and motivation to do written work are all typically affected.

  14. Highly gifted children, creative children, mathematically talented children, children with attention deficits, learning disabled children, culturally diverse children, and underachievers often are visual-spatial learners who require different teaching methods. Visual-spatial learners think in pictures, whereas auditory-sequential learners think in words. Typical educational strategies are a better match for auditory-sequential learners than for visual-spatial learners. We have developed methods of identifying this learning pattern and effective strategies for teaching visual-spatial learners.

  15. Gifted children often have hidden learning disabilities (dual exceptionalities). One-sixth of the gifted children who come to us for testing have some type of learning disability—usually undetected before the assessment—such as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), difficulties with visual-perception, writing disabilities, spatial disorientation, dyslexia, and attention deficits. Giftedness masks disabilities and disabilities depress IQ scores. Higher abstract reasoning enables children to compensate to some extent for these weaknesses, making them harder to detect. However, compensation requires more energy, affects motivation, and breaks down under stress or when the child is fatigued.

  16. Children with dual exceptionalities usually have at least one parent with the same learning pattern. Visual-spatial learners and children with dual exceptionalities tend to get smarter as they get older and often become successful adults.

  17. Difficult birth histories, such as long labor, heads too large for the birth canal, 4 or more hours of pitocin to induce labor, emergency C-sections, cords wrapped around any part of the infant’s body, and oxygen at birth, can lead to sensory-motor difficulties. Parents, teachers, and pediatricians should be alerted that the critical period for ameliorating sensory-motor deficits is from birth to age 7. When gross or fine motor weaknesses are seen, pediatric occupational therapy should be sought immediately, rather than waiting for the child to “outgrow” the problem.

  18. Over 60% of gifted children are introverted compared with 30% of the general population. Over 75% of highly gifted children are introverted. Introversion correlates with introspection, reflection, the ability to inhibit aggression, deep sensitivity, moral development, high academic achievement, scholarly contributions, leadership in academic and aesthetic fields in adult life, and smoother passage through midlife; however, it is very likely to be misunderstood and "corrected" in children by well-meaning adults.

  19. Giftedness is not elitist. It cuts across all socio-economic, ethnic and national groups. In every culture, there are developmentally advanced children who have greater abstract reasoning and develop at a faster rate than their age peers. Even though the percentage of gifted students among the upper classes may be higher, there are a much greater number of gifted children among the lower classes, because the poor far outnumber the rich. Therefore, when provisions are denied to the gifted on the basis that they are "elitist," it is the poor who suffer the most. The rich have other options.

  20. Gifted children are asynchronous. Their development tends to be uneven, and they often feel out-of-sync with age peers and with age-based school expectations. They are emotionally intense and have greater awareness of the perils of the world. They may not have the emotional resources to match their cognitive awareness. They are at risk for abuse in environments that do not respect their differences.

  21. Gifted children have better social adjustment in classes with children like themselves; the brighter the child, the lower the child's social self-concept in regular classrooms. Social self-concept improves when children are placed with true peers in special classes.

  22. Perfectionism, sensitivity and intensity are three personality traits associated with giftedness. They are derived from the complexity of the child's cognitive and emotional development. According to Dabrowski's theory, these traits are indicative of potential for high moral values in adult life. The brighter the child, the earlier and more profound is his or her concern with moral issues. But this potential usually does not develop in a vacuum. It requires nurturing in a supportive environment.

  23. The more egalitarian gifted programs attempt to be, the less defensible they are. Children in the top and bottom 3 percent of the population have atypical developmental patterns and require differentiated instruction. Children in the top and bottom 10 percent of the population are not statistically or developmentally different from children in the top and bottom 15 percent, and it is not justifiable to single them out for special treatment. More and more school districts are realizing this in this new millennium, and are providing in-depth services for those who need them the most. Self-contained, multi-age programs for the gifted are gaining in popularity.


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