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Characteristics of Gifted Children


Characteristics need to go beyond simple checklists to determine the extent of a child’s giftedness. Observation is often the first step in deciding whether or not to begin the identification process. It’s important to know what you are looking for and why. Checklists aside, characteristics may include mastery of a particular discipline that begins much younger than in age-peers, more easily, and much faster. Gifted children may display ‘near obsessive’ interests which go well beyond those of age-mates. They may be drawn to others with similar approaches/interests.

Understanding what to look for when identifying a gifted child has implications for both teachers and parents. Teachers need to know how to modify learning environment and curriculum based on unique characteristics of their students. Parents need to understand characteristics of gifted children to inform parenting decisions that go beyond consideration of academic performance and also considers the importance of their child’s all around environment. They should understand that gifted children need to be nurtured with attention paid to their child’s gifted characteristics.

Incorrect diagnosis is often the result of professionals lacking information and experience about what it means to be gifted. It’s important for professionals to have foundational knowledge of gifted characteristics and parents should question anyone dealing with their child beforehand to determine if they are qualified to assess the child. Different abilities may mask each other making a diagnosis or determination more difficult; especially when identifying gifted children with learning differences.

How do Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities relate to characteristics of gifted children? Dąbrowski’s work did not originate in the area of giftedness, but has been subsequently recognized and applied to the study of gifted individuals. Although not originally posited for gifted individuals only, Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities were adopted by gifted advocates and academics as a way to explain many of the behaviors they saw in the gifted. Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities included Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. Creative and gifted individuals appear to express OEs to a greater degree through increased intensity, awareness and sensitivity.

As a field, gifted education is often criticized for its lack of diversity in gifted programs; especially in public schools. What characteristics of GT children should we look for in underrepresented populations? Intelligence tests are notoriously biased both in fairness to diverse populations and the scope of which they test; in areas, such as, math or verbal reasoning. Skills and characteristics that can be overlooked in diverse populations (ethnicity, low SES) include a child’s ability to make intellectual connections far beyond age-peers or possessing a voracious curiosity.

Defining what it means to be gifted has evolved over the past few decades. Has this been reflected in what we look for as being gifted in the 21st century? Do preferred educational outcomes influence what is thought to be gifted characteristics? What one looks for influences the questions asked; take into consideration how assessments have changed to look beyond how quickly content/knowledge is acquired or remembered. In-demand skills such as the ability to think critically, creativity, collaboration, learning from failure, problem solve … these require rethinking how we see who is gifted. High achievers do not always meet the definition of gifted individuals. Today we look for a child who is able to assess their own strengths and weakness, determine their own learning goals, create learning objectives, and communicate what they know in novel ways.

A transcript of this chat may be found at Wakelet.

Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented  is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Thursdays at 8E/7C/6M/5P in the U.S. and Fridays at Noon NZST/10 AM AEST/1 AM UK  to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Wakelet. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news and information regarding the gifted community. Also, checkout our Pinterest Page and Playlist on YouTube.

 Lisa Conrad About the authorLisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime  advocate for gifted children and also blogs at  Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:


What is Gifted and Talented?

Closing the Gifted Gap: Recognizing Characteristics of Giftedness in Underrepresented Populations (Vimeo 45:44)

Gifted Children: What to Look For? Why You Should Know? (YouTube 16:11)

Cognitive Characteristics of the Gifted – Reconceptualized in the Context of Inquiry Learning and Teaching

What is “Gifted” or “High Ability?”

Characteristics of High Ability Learners

Characteristics of Gifted Students: Age and Gender. Findings from Three Decades

The Curse of Genius

Giftedness 101 (Silverman)

Common Traits and Characteristics of Gifted Children

Common Characteristics of Gifted Individuals

50 Common Characteristics of Gifted Children (Slideshare)

Characteristics and Signs of Giftedness

Recognizing Gifted Students: A Practical Guide for Teachers (pdf)

New Zealand: Characteristics of the gifted – Ngā pūmanawa kia manawa tītī

Characteristics of Giftedness

How to Spot a Gifted Student

Giftedness and the Gifted: What’s It All About?

Kazimierz Dąbrowski Interview 5 – University of Alberta (YouTube 1:00)

Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities

Mind Matters Podcast Episode 30: Beneath the Surface of Giftedness

A New Window for Looking at Gifted Children (pdf)

Cybraryman’s Gifted Identification Page

Mind Matters Podcast Episode 21: Opening Doors To Diversity In Gifted Education

Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad


Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities

Dabrowski Quote


Overexcitabilities was a topic that had not been discussed on #gtchat since October of 2012, and obviously one that needed revisited considering the overwhelming number of votes it received in our weekly poll.

Kazimierz Dąbrowski is a familiar name in the gifted community as well as in the field of psychology. His theories of Positive Disintegration and Overexcitabilites, although not originally posited for gifted individuals only, were adopted by gifted advocates and academics as a way to explain many of the behaviors they saw in the gifted; particularly the concept of overexcitabilities.

Dąbrowski died in 1980, but two men who worked with him, Michael Piechowski and William Tillier, are closely associated with his work; albeit with significantly different interpretations. For a historical perspective, links have been included with this post to more fully cover this debate as it was not covered during the chat.

So exactly who was  Kazimierz Dąbrowski and how did his theories come to influence the gifted community? He was a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist and physician who lived from 1902 to 1980. His theories, as mentioned above, serve as a framework for understanding certain gifted characteristics. Dąbrowski believed ability/intelligence plus overexcitability predicted the potential for higher-level development. (Lind) For an excellent review of his influence on gifted theory, see this article by Sharon Lind at the SENG website.

Interview with Dąbrowski recorded in October 1975 in Edmonton (Canada) by PJ Reece

Concentrating on overexcitabilities, there are 5 types: Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. Creative and gifted individuals appear to express overexcitabilities to a greater degree through increased intensity, awareness and sensitivity. These characteristics can often lead to misdiagnosis in gifted children by professionals unfamiliar and untrained in recognizing these traits.

Strategies have been developed for coping with overexcitabilities. Talking with and explaining the concept of overexcitabilities with those experiencing them tends to be a good coping strategy. In the case of children allowing them to ‘move’ and expend their energy in a safe and caring environment can be a huge benefit; especially in classroom settings. Provide stimulating and challenging coursework in educational settings for children with intellectual overexcitability can affect their lives in dramatic ways as well as prevent underachievement and boredom.

For a transcript of this chat, visit our Storify site.


Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7/6 C & 4 PT in the U.S., midnight in the UK and Saturdays 1 PM NZDT/11 AM AEDT to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community.

Head Shot 2014-07-14About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:



Interview with Prof. Kazimierz Dąbrowski 1975 (YouTube 22:38)

Five Unexpected Traits of Gifted Students  from Byrdseed Gifted

Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration & Giftedness: Overexcitability Research Findings (pdf)

Living With Intensity: Understanding Sensitivity, Excitability & Emotional Development of the Gifted (Amazon)

Dąbrowski’s Over-excitabilities A Layman’s Explanation by Stephanie Tolan

Identifying Gifted Adolescents using Personality Characteristics: Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities (pdf)

Overexcitabilities & the Gifted Child from Duke TIP

Living with Intensity Understanding Giftedness through Dąbrowski’s Eyes

Overexcitabilities & Why They Matter for Gifted Kids

Overexcitabilities A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Gifted Child (pdf)

Dąbrowski’s Theory & Existential Depression in Gifted Children & Adults (pdf) by Dr. James T. Webb

Relationships between Overexcitabilities, Big 5 Personality Traits & Giftedness in Adolescents via @sbkaufman

Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities or Supersensitivities in Gifted Children

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (Amazon)

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration (Amazon)

Overexcitabilities & Sensitivities: Implications of Dabrowski’s TPD for Counseling the Gifted

Foundations for Understanding Social-Emotional Needs of Highly Gifted from Davidson Gifted

Mellow Out, They Say If I Only Could: Intensities & Sensitivities of the Young & Bright (Amazon)

Dąbrowski 201: Intro to Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration by William Tillier (pdf)

Point-Counter Point Piechowski and Tillier: Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration

Response to William Tillier’s “Conceptual differences between Piechowski and Dabrowski” (pdf)

Can Giftedness be Misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder? Empirical Evidence (pdf)

Thank you to Leslie Graves (President of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children), Dr. Brian Housand (NAGC Board of Directors, #gtchat Advisory Board, Amy Harrington (SENG Board of Directors), Jo Freitag (Gifted Resources), Corin Goodwin (Executive Director of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum), Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis (SENG Director and Medical Liaison) , Amanda Morin, and Jerry Blumengarten (Cybraryman).

The OEQ 2 Inventory (pdf)

Gifted Articles: Overexcitability on Livebinders

Educating the Educator – Gifted Education (AUS): Overexcitability

Dąbrowski’s Theory of Overexcitabilities

Photo of Kazimierz Dąbrowski

The Intellectual and Emotional Experience of Being Gifted and Talented

Overexcitabilities and Asynchronicity and Perfectionism! Oh, My!

Gifted: Overexcitabilities and Asynchronicity

Nurturing the Gifted Mind: Intellectual Overexcitabilities

Save the Gifted

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Brochures

Reducing the Risk of Medical Misdiagnosis from SENG

How to Help Your Grade-Schooler Manage Overexcitement

How to Help Your Middle- or High-Schooler Manage Overexcitement

GHF: Tips from an Occupational Therapist

Overexcitabilities on Livebinders from Leslie Graves

Cybraryman’s Coping Strategies Page

Cybraryman’s Yoga Page

WCGTC World Conference 2015

Sprite’s Site Do You Know the Dabrowski Dogs?

Sprite’s Site Doggy Classroom Dynamics

Sprite’s Site Travelling with the Dabrowski Dogs

Sprite’s Site Critical Thinking

Sprite’s Site Be Creative with the Dabrowski Dogs

Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

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