Characteristics and Needs of the Gifted

by Mary Codd

According to Dr. Linda Silverman, Gifted Development Center in Denver, CO, Parents are excellent identifiers of giftedness in their children: 84% of the children whose parents say that they fit ¾ of the following characteristics score at least 120 IQ (the superior range). Over 95% show giftedness in at least one area, but are asynchronous in their development, and their weaknesses depress their IQ scores.

If you are a parent who suspects that your child may be gifted, here are some traits and characteristics of gifted children that might prove helpful to you.

Some General Characteristics

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education explains, These are typical factors stressed by educational authorities as being indicative of giftedness. Obviously, no child is outstanding in all characteristics.

  1. Shows superior reasoning powers and marked ability to handle ideas; can generalize readily from specific facts and can see subtle relationships; has outstanding problem-solving ability.
  2. Shows persistent intellectual curiosity; asks searching questions; shows exceptional interest in the nature of man and the universe.
  3. Has a wide range of interests, often of an intellectual kind; develops one or more interests to considerable depth.
  4. Is markedly superior in quality and quantity of written and/or spoken vocabulary; is interested in the subtleties of words and their uses.
  5. Reads avidly and absorbs books well beyond his or her years.
  6. Learns quickly and easily and retains what is learned; recalls important details, concepts and principles; comprehends readily.
  7. Shows insight into arithmetical problems that require careful reasoning and grasps mathematical concepts readily.
  8. Shows creative ability or imaginative expression in such things as music, art, dance, drama; shows sensitivity and finesse in rhythm, movement, and bodily control.
  9. Sustains concentration for lengthy periods and shows outstanding responsibility and independence in classroom work.
  10. Sets realistically high standards for self; is self-critical in evaluating and correcting his or her own efforts.
  11. Shows initiative and originality in intellectual work; shows flexibility in thinking and considers problems from a number of viewpoints.
  12. Observes keenly and is responsive to new ideas.
  13. Shows social poise and an ability to communicate with adults in a mature way.
  14. Gets excitement and pleasure from intellectual challenge; shows an alert and subtle sense of humor.

Visual Spatial Learners

According to Dr. Linda Silverman, Visual-spatial learners are individuals who think in pictures rather than in words. They have a different brain organization than auditory-sequential learners. They learn better visually than auditorally. They learn all-at-once, and when the light bulb goes on, the learning is permanent. They do not learn from repetition and drill. They are whole-part learners who need to see the big picture first before they learn the details. They are nonsequential, which means that they do not learn in the step-by-step manner in which most teachers teach. They arrive at correct solutions without taking steps, so show your work may be impossible for them. They may have difficulty with the easy tasks, but show amazing ability with difficult, complex tasks. They are systems thinkers who can orchestrate large amounts of information from different domains, but they often miss the details. They tend to be organizationally impaired and unconscious about time. They are often gifted creatively, technologically, mathematically or emotionally.

You can tell you have one of these children by the endless amount of time they spend doing advanced puzzles,
constructing with Legos, completing mazes, counting everything, playing Tetris on the computer, playing chess, building with any materials at hand, designing scientific experiments, programming your computer, or taking everything in the house apart to see how it operates.
For more on visual spatial learners, visit the Gifted
Development Center’s website

Characteristics Comparison between Auditory-Sequential and Visual Spatial Learners

The Auditory-Sequential
The Visual-Spatial
Is a step-by-step learner Is a whole-part learner
Has auditory strengths Has visual strengths
Learns by trial and error Learns concepts all at once
Is an analytical thinker Is a good synthesizer
Attends well to details Sees the big picture; may miss details
Does well at arithmetic Is better at math reasoning than computation
Follows oral directions well Reads maps well
Learns phonics easily Learns sight words better than phonics
Can sound out spelling words Must visualize words in order to spell them
Excels at rote memorization Learns best by seeing relationships
Has excellent short-term memory Has excellent long-term memory
Has neat handwriting Prefers keyboarding to writing
Is well organized Creates unique methods of organization
Progresses sequentially from easy to difficult material Learns difficult concepts easily; struggles with easy skills
Learns from models Develops own methods of problem solving
May need some repetition to reinforce learning Learns concepts permanently: is turned off by drill and repetition
Performs well in timed tests Performs better in untimed situations
Can show work easily Arrives at correct solutions intuitively
Masters other languages in classes Masters other languages through immersion
Learns in spite of emotional reactions Is very sensitive to teachers’ attitudes
Is comfortable with one right answer Generates unusual solutions to problems
Develops in a fairly even manner Develops quite asynchronously
Usually maintains high grades May have very uneven grades
Enjoys algebra and chemistry Enjoys geometry and physics
Is academically talented Is creatively, mechanically, technologically, or emotionally
Is an early bloomer Is a late bloomer
provided courtesy of the Gifted Development Center

Learning Characteristics of Visual Spatial Learners

Learning characteristics of visual spatial learners may cause them problems in school, and often gifted visual
spatial learners are not recognized as being gifted in a typical school environment. To read a pdf file entitled Effective Techniques for Teaching Highly Gifted Visual-Spatial Learners click

Thrives on complexity Struggles with easy material
Loves difficult puzzles Hates drill and repetition
Fascinated by computers Has illegible handwriting
Great at geometry, physics Poor at phonics, spelling
Keen visual memory Poor auditory memory
Creative, imaginative Inattentive in class
A systems thinker Disorganized; forgets details
High abstract reasoning Difficulty memorizing facts
Excels in math analysis Poor at calculation
High reading comprehension Low word recognition
Excellent sense of humor Performs poorly on TIMED
Chart provided courtesy
of the Gifted Development Center

History of Gifted Education and Intelligence Theories

Formal gifted programs in the United States can be traced back to 1918. In 1924, The Education of the Gifted was published by the University of Chicago Press. For more information click here.

Definitions of Giftedness

A definition of giftedness is the foundation upon which an educational program for gifted children is built. The specific abilities included in a definition determine the kinds of identification criteria that are used to select children for a program and the kinds of educational services that are provided to those children. The selection of abilities to be included in a definition is, therefore, very important to educators who must determine which children are designated as gifted and what kinds of educational services are provided to them. To read more click here.

References and Credits

Davis, Gary A. and Rimm, Sylvia B., 1998 Education of the Gifted and Talented, 4th Edition

ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education, “Giftedness and the Gifted: What’s it All about? What Does Giftedness Mean?”

Gifted Development Center

Hoagies Gifted Website, “Characteristics of the Gifted Child”

Mary Codd has been interested in the arts and education for a long time. She has a BFA in Art Education from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a M.Ed. in Gifted Education from the University of Connecticut. She is currently the President of Acme New Media Solutions.