Gifted Children And What It Means To Be Advanced

gifted childI was asked to write a blog on giftedness in children – specifically, how to access it and how to ensure that a child with cognitive strength is able to reach his or her potential. This has proven to be a hard topic to write about. I don’t like the term “giftedness” for several reasons, but before I divulge those, I need to discuss what it means to be “gifted.”

A quick review of basic statistics is necessary in order to understand how we assess children has demonstrating superior ability. Traditionally, when we think of giftedness, we are thinking of a child’s IQ score. The vast majority of IQ scores used standard scores. A standard score is a statistical term in which a score of 100 is solidly average (50th percentile) and a standard deviation (the spread of scores from the mean of 100) of 15. In layman terms, scores between 85-115 are considered to be average.

When you are talking about giftedness, we see scores with at least two standard deviations greater than the mean (meaning an IQ score of 130 or higher). So, gifted children are those children that have IQ scores of 130 or higher. Pretty easy to identify, right? Wrong. One of my major critiques of giftedness is that parents and some academic folk rely way too much on the overall IQ score to determine if a child is gifted.

What Are IQ Measurements For Children?

The current gold-standard IQ measure, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) came out in 2003. On the WISC-IV, children attain a Full Scale IQ score, which is comprised of several factors: verbal reasoning and comprehension, nonverbal reasoning, immediate attention and memory, and processing speed. Here lies one of the concerns in assessing giftedness. Which score should one use?

Traditionally, the Verbal Reasoning and nonverbal Perceptual Reasoning indexes were the primary components, because they were thought to accurately tap into a child’s reasoning abilities. However, if a child has superior verbal reasoning but low average-to-impaired working memory or processing speed, would he or she be gifted? My thoughts are no. After an evaluation and a child demonstrates such a profile, it is important to continue to foster and strengthen the verbal reasoning by developing strategies and accommodations to challenge him or her. At the same time, it is even more important to address the areas of weakness by accommodating the issues with working memory or processing speed.

Another concern is the child’s social and emotional functioning. So many times we see well-intentioned parents and teachers accommodate a child’s above average ability while inadvertently neglecting his or her social functioning. There has to be a balance between constant academic programming and focus on developing a child’s intellectual abilities with the development of his or her social needs.

Children with Cognitive Strengths:

Parents often ask me to assess whether their child is gifted or not. My first thought that comes to mind is, why? For whose benefit, do you want the label? Is it for parents to have another ribbon or additional bragging rights about their child? Or is it to truly help this child and identify what modifications are needed to best improve the academic world? If there are no concerns with the child’s academic placement, nor are parents interested in changing the school environment, then the label does not do anyone justice.

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