Characteristics and Signs of Giftedness

What Are Some Characteristics of Gifted Children?

Although there is no easy formula for identifying a gifted child, certain characteristics appear to differentiate the gifted child from his/her classmates, such as:

  • Early ability to read and to understand nuances in the language: A child who is gifted often reads two or more grade levels above current grade placement and reads widely in many areas or intensely in one subject area.
  • Early use of advanced vocabulary: The ability to express thoughts readily and clearly is often a characteristic of a gifted child.
  • Retention of a variety of information: A gifted child often amazes parents and teachers by learning new information quickly and remembering the details over long periods of time.
  • Periods of intense concentration: The child can become totally engrossed in topics of interest while being oblivious to surrounding events.
  • A broad and changing spectrum of interests: The child may be involved in many self-initiated projects at the same time.
  • Keen observation and curiosity: An acute awareness of self and the environment is typical of a gifted child. The child may persistently pursue a line of questioning to learn more about topics of interest.
  • Complex processing of information: A gifted child is able to perceive relationships, comprehend implications, and process a large amount of information.
  • Ability to think abstractly: The child can often move from concrete to symbolic representation very comfortably and at an earlier age than most children.
  • Strong critical thinking skills: The child is able to perform evaluations based on established criteria and often notices discrepancies between what people say and what they do.
  • Ability to follow directions and assume responsibility: A child who is gifted often shows independence, self-reliance, and responsibility in completing tasks.
  • Creativity and inventiveness: The child is able to view situations from varying perspectives, develop and explore alternative approaches, and generate novel products.
    Seemingly limitless energy: Frequently a gifted child is alert and eager, delving into interests beyond the usual limitations of children his/her own age.
  • Leadership: The child often assumes leadership roles in a variety of circumstances and settings.

Note: High grades in classes and/or high scores on standardized achievement tests are not necessarily indicators that a student is gifted. Further evaluation is necessary for accurate identification.

Early Signs of Giftedness Include:

  • Unusual alertness in infancy
  • Less need for sleep in infancy
  • Long attention span
  • High activity level
  • Smiling or recognizing caretakers early
  • Intense reactions to noise, pain, frustration
  • Advanced progression through the developmental milestones
  • Extraordinary memory
  • Enjoyment and speed of learning
  • Early and extensive language development
  • Fascination with books
  • Curiosity
  • Excellent sense of humor
  • Abstract reasoning and problem-solving skills
  • Vivid imagination (e.g., imaginary companions)
  • Sensitivity and compassion

If a child exhibits a majority of these characteristics, parents may wish to have the child assessed by an experienced examiner to find out if the child is gifted. Firstborn children tend to be recognized more often than their siblings. When one child in the family is gifted, it is quite possible that others may also be gifted.

Early identification is recommended (ages 3 through 8) because it permits early intervention, as important for gifted as for any other children with special needs.

Bright Child

Gifted Learner

Knows the answers

Asks the questions

Is interested

Is highly curious

Is attentive

Is mentally and physically involved

Has good ideas

Has wild, silly ideas

Works hard

Plays around, yet tests well

Answers the questions

Discusses in detail, elaborates

Top group

Beyond the group

Listens with interest

Shows strong feelings and opinions

Learns with ease

Already knows

6-8 repetitions for mastery

1-2 repetitions for mastery

Understands ideas

Constructs abstractions

Enjoys peers

Prefers adults

Grasps the meaning

Draws inferences

Completes assignments

Initiates projects

Is receptive

Is intense

Copies accurately

Creates a new design

Enjoys school

Enjoys learning

Absorbs information

Manipulates information



Good at memorization

Good guesser

Enjoys straightforward sequential presentation

Thrives on complexity

Is alert

Is keenly observant

Is pleased with own learning

Is highly self-critical


Download and Print This Table

Resources on Signs of a Gifted Child

What to Look For

Hoagies' Gifted Resource Site updates its Gifted 101 page often and is an excellent resource for parents of newly identified gifted children and for those parents who need a refresher or are seeking more information. 

View the Gifted 101 Resource

This article from the National Association of Elementary School Principals publication Principal highlights the characteristics of gifted students, documents the identification process and addresses common myths about gifted students. It is called "Best Practices for Identifying Gifted Students" by Susan K. Johnsen, who is currently a Professor Emeritus at Baylor University with multiple publications on Gifted Education.