Traits of Giftedness

Understanding the different traits

Not all gifted kids look alike, or have the same characteristics. There are many definitions of giftedness, and each group has a unique set of needs. Here is a run-down of some of the groups.

This content was written by Kathleen Humble, author of Gifted Myths: An Easy-to-Read Guide to the Myths, Science and History of the Gifted and Twice-Exceptional.

E-gifted (Educationally Gifted)

These kids perform in the top 10% academically. They like learning at school, are socially well-adjusted and are usually reasonably well-liked. They have fewer mental health problems. Dedicated and hard-working, they can be generally accommodated with in-class acceleration options.

Things to look for:

Disengaged with work they understand. POC, disabled and disadvantaged kids are often excluded due to poor assessment methods, Dynamic Assessment is a better way to find these kids. (1)

P-gifted (Psychologically Gifted)

High IQ and High Achievement aren’t the same thing – research has historically excluded low-performing high IQ groups from disadvantaged backgrounds, confusing definitions of giftedness (1).

These kids have an IQ score in the top 2.1%. Using the Five Factor Model of Personality, gifted kids have an over-abundance of the Openness trait. Poor educational fit can lead to problems in school. They are more likely to be tested for disabilities, and to have a sensory processing disorder (2). Because their brain cortexes grow at a different rate (4), and finish later, their development won’t match typical peers. High working memory scores mean they do complex calculations their head (3). Gifted kids are less likely to be identified if poor, people of colour and/or disabled.

Things to look for:

Endless questions, fine ethics radar – can spot inconsistencies, high levels of creativity, very sensitive to mood and emotions of others, lack of trust in authority, occasional high results in subjects/topics of interest. Unwillingness to ‘show their work’. Non-typical development patterns in learning.

Both (Educationally and Psychologically Gifted)

Group that all longitudinal studies have been done on. Have a blend of E- & P- gifted traits.

Things to look for:

Disengaged with material below their ability level, unwillingness to ‘show work’ on correct answers, hanging out with older kids or teachers.

Twice-Exceptional (2e – Gifted and Disabled)

Gifted kids with disabilities often have IQ sub-scores in the top ~2% and an average score (if calculated) at least one standard deviation above average (for the WISC, this would be 115+)(5). In lower grades they may do OK compared to kids their age, as they compensate for their disability, but it falls apart as they get older. Disabled kids are often not identified for gifted programs.

Things to look for:

Masking behaviours. For example, a dyslexic child able to quickly memorise verbally what a ‘reader’ says. Inconsistent output, i.e. able to do activities one day but not the next. Extreme variations between and within subjects. Executive functioning deficits (ADHD, Autism), mean kids look OK as curriculum is well below their ability. Often an ability / performance crash in later schooling.

Highly to Profoundly Gifted (HG – PG)

Will be 3-7+ years ahead of their age cohorts, and can display traits similar to kids with ADHD, Autism, OCD, anxiety and sensory disorders (They can also be twice-exceptional too!)

Ability to “inhale knowledge” – beyond just fast learning. They work backwards from complicated ideas to basic principles. Whole – to – Part learning is a good option for HG – PG kids. Radical acceleration & using a guided project-based approach can help these students as well.

Things to look for:

As per P-Gifted and Both groups. Also, a deep understanding of material. Will often fail “simple” tests as they can see complex relationships for all possible answers. Often deeply disengaged with learning in classroom.

Tips for teaching according to type of giftedness

Because gifted kids’ writing / reading / maths abilities are not aligned to a curriculum designed around a typical learner, differentiation is hard. Other options include:

  • Carefully considered subject acceleration. A more cost and time-effective option than in-class acceleration.

  • Whole – to – Part learning is best for HG – PG kids. Using a guided project-based approach can help these students.

  • Support understanding how their brain differs in learning and interacting, to understand why age-mates may not have same friendship and play interests. Gifted kids often gravitate to older kids.

  • Out-sized emotional responses and crippling perfectionism are more likely (2). Learning how to handle this constructively is as important as subject acceleration


1. Graham Chaffey, Specialisation Module 4 – Part 1. Gifted and Talented Education, Professional Development Package for Teachers, Specialisation, Module 4. (Sydney: GERRIC, University of NSW, 2004), 8-19

2. Yee Han Chu and Bradley Myers, “When the world is just too rough: Twice exceptional gifted children with sensory processing disorder,” speech, 22nd Biennial World Conference, World Council for Gifted and Talented Children, July 20, 2017.

3. Roberto Colom, Sherif Karama, Rex E. Jung and Richard J. Haier, “Human Intelligence and Brain Networks,” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 12, no 4 (December 2010): 489-501.

4. Tamara Fisher, “Unwrapping the Gifted: What Brain Images Show Us About Gifted Learners,” Education Week Teacher (blog), Education Week, February 9, 2010,

5. Karen Rogers, “Worth the Effort: Finding and Supporting Twice Exceptional Learners in Schools,” keynote speech, 22nd Biennial World Conference, World Council of Gifted and Talented Children, July 20, 2017.