Why Parents Hate the Label Gifted

Volume 4

I would like to meet the person (or committee more likely) who first used the word ‘gifted’ to describe high ability children. I would tell this person that being this way…so different from everyone else intellectually, emotionally and otherwise…is no gift!

It’s actually unclear who first used the label “gifted” to describe children with high potential. In 1972, S.P. Marland delivered the first national report to US Congress about gifted children and their educational needs. That presentation, now known as The Marland Report, contained a definition of giftedness along with research supporting the need to differentiate classroom instruction for gifted learnersRead a full history of gifted education published by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).

What I call tell you after speaking with hundreds of parents raising gifted children is that few, if any, like the label gifted. Many of us feel the term reeks of elitism and it does not accurately represent both sides of the high-ability coin. Yes, our children have aptitudes that surpass the norm, but they also face unique challenges trying to fit into a world that is not designed to accommodate their needs.

If we must label these children, here are labels I would prefer use to describe our kids:

  • Asynchronous – This is the label I like best because it is devoid of positive or negative connotation. In technology, asynchronous means, “of or relating to operation without the use of fixed time intervals.” In human development, asynchronous learners simply are not synchronized with other children – they can be ahead in some areas and/or behind in others.
  • Precocious – This is a word with which most people are already familiar so it could easily be used to describe our kids. The formal definition is, “having developed certain abilities or proclivities at an earlier age than usual.” That one works fairly well as a label, but it sounds a bit old-fashioned.
  • Intellectually-Curious – This term suggests an innate desire to learn, which is a primary characteristic of gifted children, but ‘curious’ isn’t quite the right word. “Intellectually-ravenous” might be a better descriptor but I’m not sure the folks in the annals of education research would be happy with this label. And there are some students who have their curiosity diminished after spending time in educational environments that don’t meet their learning needs.
  • High-Needs– I use this term a lot to explain to people why it is so challenging to raise my two boys. “They are high-needs children,” says as much about the challenges of parenting these kids as it does about the characteristics of the children themselves. What I like about the term is that it doesn’t imply judgment. It simply indicates that the needs of this population are higher than average. We parents raising gifted children know this to be true.

Whether we like it or not, the label “gifted” is what is currently used in education, research, and child development circles to describe our asynchronous, precocious, intellectually-curious, high-needs kids. Which of these, or other, labels do you prefer? Email me chris@nationalcenterforgiftedservices.com.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]