Let’s Redefine What Gifted Means



What does gifted mean?  Ask an educator and you’ll get a different answer than a doctor.  Ask any parent of a gifted child, and you’ll get a bemused stare or hysterical laughter.  Ask a counselor familiar with giftedness, and you’ll probably get a laundry list of characteristics.


What if I asked you if gifted meant organized, a rule-follower, and motivated?  Would you think I was nuts?  If you work with gifted kids at all, probably.   If you don’t personally know gifted kids then you might think I was right.  Because those are the characteristics of a high achiever.

These days, the stereotype of the high achiever has taken over the word gifted.  To be blunt, I blame our educational system.  The system in place rewards those who shut up, listen, and follow the rules.  Kids who are motivated and organized can succeed simply by being present and turning their work in.  Kids who struggle with those life skills are labeled “lazy,” “unmotivated,” or “delayed.”


Here’s the problem

The problem with the high achiever stereotype is that it’s wide-spread.  If even the teachers think gifted means a high achiever, then they’re not going to consider the kid who can’t turn their homework in on time, or who asks question after question.  They might not think the child staring out of the window dreaming of fantastical worlds is gifted if the kid can’t follow directions.  And good grief, what if the kid can’t read yet?  They can’t possibly be gifted, right?

It’s worth reminding those in charge of the educational system that gifted often means the exact opposite of high achieving.  Gifted can mean disorganized.  Unmotivated.  Bored silly.  Defiant and questioning.  Curious and inquisitive.  Not a rule follower, but a rule questioner instead.  All qualities that make it difficult to function in a school environment.  And frankly, all qualities that make it difficult for a teacher to do their job.


Sure, a lot of these issues are basic life skills that students need to practice to attain, but in general, it’s asynchrony.  For whatever reason, the organized students matured that part of their brain faster than the disorganized kids.  Should the struggling kids be punished for that?  Should their abilities be ignored, their needs unmet because they have trouble turning in homework at just the right time?

Nope.  Not in my book.  They need help.  They need support.

The real issue

The real problem here is that many of these gifted characteristics are actually things that will help the child succeed in life.  Do employers want a drone who follows orders, or an inquisitive, creative individual who can figure out the solutions to difficult problems?  (some employers do want the first sort.)


I hate the baggage that comes with the word gifted, but the high achiever stereotype is one of the more damaging ones.  While some gifted kids are high achievers, not all high achievers are gifted.  Gifted is too broad of a category to label so neatly.  Gifted is messy, creative, and intense.

I’ll keep saying it: gifted is wiring.  And until our educational system understands that and stops trying to force everyone into a neat little box, the high achiever will remain the educational darling.


Why?  Because they make it easier for everyone.


This post is part of the Gifted Homeschooler Forum 2.0 monthly theme on Myths, Misconceptions, and Misunderstandings about Giftedness.















  1. I agree with it all! I blame our educational system also–it feeds into the erroneous gifted stereotype by focusing on achievement, high scores and good grades. Thank you for speaking out and being blunt. We need more people who understand giftedness to speak out so our gifted children will stop falling through the cracks and being neglected!


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