What We Have Learned About Gifted Children
1979 – 2009
Linda Silverman, Ph.D., Director
Gifted Development Center
The Gifted Development Center has been in operation since June, 1979, and we have assessed over
5,600 children in the last 30 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 post-doctoral internships assisting 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. Here are some of the highlights of what we have learned so far:
1. Parents are excellent identifiers of giftedness in their children: 84% of 1,000 children whose parents
felt that they exhibited 3/4 of the traits in our Characteristics of Giftedness Scale tested in the superior
or gifted range. Over 95% demonstrated giftedness in at least one area, but were asynchronous in
their development, and their weaknesses depressed their composite IQ scores.
2. 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 in all children.
3. When parents fail to recognize a child’s gifts, teachers may overlook them as well. Rita Dickinson
(1970) found that half of the children she tested with IQs of 132 or above were referred for behavior
problems and not seen as gifted by their teachers or parents. Parent advocacy is critical for gifted
children’s emotional and academic growth. Associate Director, Bobbie Gilman’s (2008a) awardwinning
book, Academic Advocacy for Gifted Children: A Parent’s Complete Guide, can guide parents
in effectively advocating for their children. Challenging Highly Gifted Learners (Gilman, 2008b) is an
excellent book for teachers and parents.
4. Children and adults can be assessed at any age. However, the ideal age for testing is between 5 and
8 _ years. By the age of 9, highly gifted children may hit the ceiling of the tests, and gifted girls may
be socialized to hide their abilities. Unless they are absolutely certain they are right, gifted girls are
often unwilling to guess, which lowers their IQ scores.
5. Brothers and sisters are usually within five or ten points in measured ability. Parents’ IQ scores are
often within 10 points of their children’s; even grandparents’ IQ scores may be within 10 points of their
grandchildren’s. We studied 148 sets of siblings and found that over 1/3 were within five 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.
6. Second children are recognized as gifted much less frequently than first-borns or only children. They
often go in the opposite direction of 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
7. IQ testing in childhood clearly demonstrates the equality of intelligence between males and females.
Until the IQ test was developed, most of society believed in the “natural superiority of males.” Even
now, the fact that most of the eminent are men leads some to believe that males are innately more
intelligent than females. On the contrary, we have found more than 100 girls with IQ scores above
180. The highest IQ score on record at our Center was attained by a girl, and four of the five highest
scores were earned by girls. However, parents are more likely to bring their sons for assessment and
overlook their daughters, and this inequity appears to be getting worse. From 1979 to 1989, 57% of
the children brought for testing were male, and 43% were female, whereas 51% above 160 IQ were
male and 49% female (see chart). In 2008, 68% of the children brought for testing were male and
only 32% female, while the distribution in the highest IQ ranges is 60% male and 40% female.
Males above 160 IQ Females above 160 IQ Total
1979 –1989 94 89 183
1990 – 2009 507 298 805
1979 – 2009 601 387 988
8. 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.
9. Gifted children are asynchronous. Their development tends to be uneven, and they often feel out-ofsync
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
10. This asynchrony is often seen in large discrepancies between index scores on the fourth edition of
the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV). In these cases, the Full Scale IQ score
should not be used to select gifted students for programs. Instead, the General Ability Index (GAI),
which omits Working Memory and Processing Speed, provides a better estimate of the child’s
reasoning ability. The GAI has been endorsed by the National Association for Gifted Children:
http://www.nagc.org/index.aspx?id=375. Extended norms are now available for the WISC-IV:
11. The fifth edition of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (SB5) measures mathematical and visualspatial
abilities better than abstract verbal reasoning abilities. When the SB5 is used for selection of
gifted students for programs, the cut-off score for admission should be lowered to 120 IQ. Different
scoring options are available for gifted children, including Rasch-ratio scores. The publisher permits
the administration of the older version of the Stanford-Binet (Form L-M) to assess abstract verbal
abilities, especially in exceptionally gifted children, and recommends that it be administered in
conjunction with the SB5 so that various scores can be compared (Carson & Roid, 2004).
12. Creative children, culturally diverse children, mathematically talented children, children with attention
deficits, highly gifted children, learning disabled children, and underachievers often are visual-spatial
learners who require different teaching methods. Visual-spatial learners usually think in pictures or
rely on “sensing” or feeling, whereas auditory-sequential learners usually 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 (Silverman, 2002). Our Visual-Spatial Identifier can be used with
entire school districts or classes, as well as individually. Please visit www.VisualSpatial.org for free
information about strategies for teaching visual-spatial learners.
13. Gifted children have better social adjustment in classes with children like themselves. The brighter
the child, the lower his or her social self-concept is likely to be in the regular classroom. Social selfconcept
improves when children are placed with true peers in special classes.
14. 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—related to overexcitabilities—are indicative of potential for high
moral values in adult life. The brighter the child, the earlier and more profound may be his or her
concern with moral issues. But this potential usually does not develop in a vacuum. It requires
nurturing in a supportive environment.
15. About 60% of gifted children are introverted compared with 30% of the general population.
Approximately 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.
16. Mildly, moderately, highly, exceptionally and profoundly advanced children are as different from each
other as mildly, moderately, severely and profoundly delayed children are from each other, but the
differences among levels of giftedness are rarely recognized.
17. There are far more exceptionally gifted children in the population than anyone realizes. Approximately
18% of the 5,600+ children we have assessed in the last 30 years are exceptionally gifted, with IQ
scores above 160 IQ. As of January 1, 2009, we found at least 988 children above 160 IQ, including
281 above 180 IQ and 87 above 200 IQ. We have entered massive data on 241 of these
children—the largest sample in this IQ range ever to be studied (Rogers & Silverman, 1997). 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;
2004) studied 60 Australian children with IQ scores above 160.
18. 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.
19. Gifted children may have hidden learning disabilities. Approximately one-sixth of the gifted children
who come to the Center for testing have some type of learning disability—often undetected before the
assessment—such as central auditory processing disorder (CAPD), difficulties with visual processing,
sensory processing disorder, 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.
20. Gifted/learning-disabled children and visual-spatial learners 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.
21. Difficult birth histories, such as long labor, heads too large for the birth canal, four 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 processing disorder (SPD). Parents, teachers, and
pediatricians should be alerted that the critical period for ameliorating sensory-motor deficits is from
birth to age seven. 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.
22. Giftedness is not elitist. It cuts across all socio-economic, ethnic and national groups (Dickinson,
1970). In every culture, there are developmentally advanced children who have greater abstract
reasoning and develop at a faster rate than their age peers. Though the percentage of gifted
students among the upper classes may be higher, a much greater number of gifted children come
from the lower classes, because the poor far outnumber the rich (Zigler & Farber, 1985). 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.
23. The more egalitarian gifted programs attempt to be, the less defensible they are. Children in the top
and bottom three 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. Selfcontained,
multi-age programs for the gifted and radical acceleration are gaining in popularity.
Carson, D. & Roid, G. (2004). Acceptable use of the Stanford-Binet Form L-M: Guidelines for the
professional use of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Third Edition (Form L-M). Itasca, IL:
Dickinson, R. M. (1970). Caring for the gifted. North Quincy, MA: Christopher.
Gilman, B. J. (2008a). Academic advocacy for gifted children: A parent’s complete guide. (Formerly
Empowering gifted minds: Educational advocacy that works.). Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential
Gilman, B. J. (2008b). Challenging highly gifted learners. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Gross, U.M. (2004). Exceptionally gifted children. (2nd Ed.). London: Routledge Falmer. [First edition,
Hollingworth, L. S. (1942). Children above 180 IQ Stanford-Binet: Origin and development. Yonkerson-
Hudson, NY: World Book.
Rogers, K. B., & Silverman, L. K. (1997, November 7). Personal, medical, social and psychological
factors in 160+ IQ children. National Association for Gifted Children 44th Annual Convention,
Little Rock, AK. [Summary of data available on-line at www.gifteddevelopment.com.]
Silverman, L. K. (2002). Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner. Denver: DeLeon.
Zigler, E., & Farber, E. A. (1985). Commonalities between the intellectual extremes: Giftedness and
mental retardation. In F. D. Horowitz & M. O’Brien (Eds.), The gifted and the talented:
Developmental perspectives (pp. 387-408). Washington, DC: American Psychological
Provided by the a>gifteddevelopment.com