Monday, September 19, 2016

The Three Types of Gifted

There are 3 types of gifted children.  Which type will your child be?  Let's find out.

The first type of gifted child is accidental.  This child finds herself with no friends one summer and is bored with TV, so she just draws a lot.  Unbeknownst to parent and child, continual drawing produces a host of skills that are relevant to challenging intellectual pursuits.  

There are many reasons to end up in accidental gifted training and many types of interests that can spur an increase in cognitive skills.  The activities generally include extended amounts of concentration, repetition, and an increase in detail or complexity as domain skills are acquired through practice.  Other activities that come to mind are acting, imaginative role playing, music, and reading.

The primary marker of the Accidental Gifted child is that he stands on the sidelines during recess and talks to the teacher.

Intentional giftedness is derived by the child being force fed some activity like reading, math, or music by the parent.   The most obvious activity for the intentional gifted child is 12 months of test prep.  

In this case, the giftedness of the child is mandatory, and the primary marker is a parent researching how to get into a GAT program on the internet.

The final type of giftedness is called fundamental.   The child engages in any cognitive skills building activity because either the child is really weird, the parents are, or both.   By "weird", I mean the traditional sense where the person does not follow social norms like watching TV and playing video games, lacks social skills, or is experiencing a period of abnormal brain activity.

If both parent and child are normal, this type of giftedness can arise if the family lives on a ranch in Montana, 10 miles from a town of 200 people, and doesn't have an internet connection.

For children who do not live on a ranch in Montana, fundamental giftedness is evidenced by a fascination with something like Star Wars, vacuum cleaners, anything science related, typically just one thing at a time.  This fascination is consuming, day after day, unceasingly, until the child outgrows it and finds a more mature topic to replace it.

Commonalities and Differences Between Types of Giftedness
Regardless of the motivator or the type of giftedness, the results will be an increase in cognitive skills and thus giftedness.  A GAT test will not distinguish the type of giftedness.  There are a variety of factors that come into play, but in each case the biggest factor will be the support of the parents, the proximity of the nearest library, and the number of trips to the library each week (in the case of reading, for example.)  Reading on its own causes giftedness, and reading can be a symptom of any type of giftedness.  The difference is degree and primary motivation.

A child may read because they are at a school 5 miles from their house and have no friends to play with after school (accidental).   A child may read because they haven't learned social skills yet and have no friends period (fundamental).  Or a child may read because 1 hour of daily reading has been mandated by the parents before they can play (intentional).  Based on the child and the situation, the primary motivator will impact the child to a degree, and this degree may be 1 hour of reading a day for a year (until they change schools or their parents forget to nag) to 5 hours of reading per day (because their best friends are books.)

This activity could be art or music or robots.   This activity won't be sports, because sports don't cause cognitive skills.

The Long Term Concern
The biggest difference between each type of giftedness is the long term impact.   Intentional giftedness wears off the fastest if not replaced with another type within a few years.   Accidental giftedness may or may not lead to another bout of interest in academic activities.   Fundamental giftedness is typically permanent, except in cases where the child either outgrows their interest in vacuum cleaners or learns social skills.

With fundamental giftedness, the parent might have to encourage a child to find other interests, like people.  With accidental giftedness, the parent might encourage the child to keep at it (reading, music, whatever) during dry spells.  With intentional giftedness, the parent needs to stop nagging and help the child find internal motivators or a burn out is on the way.

Roughly half of my readers have or will have intentionally gifted children, and the other half have accidentally gifted children.  I've never heard from a reader with a fundamentally gifted child; I assume this is because they don't need to read a blog on how to cheat your way into a GAT program or they are too shy to send me an email.

Any parent of an Accidental or Intentional gifted child who gets into a GAT program needs to start worrying about the next phase in their child's academic life.  Parents of Accidental gifted children need to look for other interests, and steer their children towards band, theater, Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts and away from well rounded children who like sports and video games.   Parents of Intentional gifted children need to stay awake at night worrying that their children are only briefly gifted children because of all the parental pressure and will some day rebel against all things academic.

In some cases, the presence in a GAT program steers a child in the right direction via expectations, curriculum, and classmates.   On the other hand, I've heard horror stories about gifted programs where most of the kids end up slightly above average and slightly disinterested in their studies.  I've also heard horror stories about parents who have to hire tudors to help their children do their homework year after year.

In my opinion, getting a gifted child to a gifted adult is going to require a lot of skills that most parents have to learn.  At this point, this is opinion and not part of my research.  This should be a major emphasis of educational research, but it is barely investigated in the literature.



  1. We're definitely in the intentional category. We've been using building thinking skills for a few months now. My 7yr old got about 50 percent of COGAT wrong 6 months ago and about the same now. Seems not much improvement. The test is in a couple of months and what should I do?

    1. This seems about where we were going into the COGAT. I don't consider it unusual. What I would expect you to do is spend much more time with your child analyzing the question, which is important, and don't check the answers, which is not important. Talk through every detail of the question and each answer and discuss options.