Gifted young girl

What characteristics do intellectually gifted children display?

In my practice I find that there is often a lot of confusion about exactly what the term “gifted” means.  Many will use the term loosely to describe children with high intellectual potential, but it is important to note that children may be gifted in a variety of ways. Some are extraordinary sportsmen, while others excel at music or art and so using the word “gifted” to refer only to children with high IQ’s might be too narrow a focus.

In this article I look specifically at identifying children who are intellectually gifted.   Although there is no single, accepted definition of intellectual giftedness it is generally accepted that children with IQ scores of 140+ fall in this category. Now, keep in mind that this giftedness is an innate ability and not a learned skill and as such many experts on intellectually gifted  children warn that IQ alone CANNOT predict success in adulthood – for this to happen intellectually gifted child  also needs to be motivated to succeed and should be committed to their learning tasks and intellectual pursuits.

Experts generally agree that intellectually gifted children:

  • Are very Observant
  • Are extremely Curious
  • Display intense interests as well as a wide range of interests
  • Have excellent memories
  • Have long attention spans
  • Have excellent reasoning skills and are good thinkers
  • Quickly and easily see the relationships in ideas, objects, or facts
  • Display fluent and flexible thinking
  • Display elaborate and original thinking
  • Have excellent problem solving skills
  • Learn quickly and with less practice and repetition
  • Have unusual and/or vivid imagination
  • Enjoy learning new things
  • Enjoy intellectual activity
  • Display intellectual playfulness
  • Prefer books and magazines meant for older children
  • Prefer the company of older children or adults
  • Might be skeptical, critical, and evaluative
  • Have extensive vocabularies
  • Have an advanced sense of humour
  • May read early (and if too young too read, love being read to)
  • May read rapidly and widely
  • May show a concern with justice and fairness beyond that expected for their age.
  • Might question authority
  • Are very good at completing puzzles and other intellectual games


This checklist of characteristics might be used as a guide in identifying intellectually gifted children but Sr Shirley Kokot, founder of Radford House School for gifted learners in Johannesburg warns that checklists might not be very accurate.  It is not so much about possessing a particular attribute but rather how many signs and how much of a characteristic is shown that might indicate intellectual giftedness.

It is vital for intellectually gifted children to receive adequate intellectual stimulation so that their potential might be realised.


Related articles:

Educating intellectually gifted children

Intellectually gifted children with learning difficulties