5 Signs Your Kid Is ‘Highly Gifted,' According to Neuroscience Experts—'They're Not Always Well-Behaved'

real444 | Getty

Is your kid gifted? It's a question that many parents often think about.

I manage student applications at the Davidson Institute, where we've helped thousands of profoundly gifted children (or kids who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ tests) reach their highest potential. Previously, I taught humanities for nearly a decade.

Most gifted kids can learn and process information faster than kids their age and comprehend material several grade levels above their peers.

But they are not always well-behaved, high-achieving students. In fact, neuroscience experts say that giftedness looks different in each child.

Unexpected signs that your kid is highly gifted

1. Asynchronous development

Does your bright child struggle with simple tasks like tying shoelaces or remembering to brush their teeth?

These are just a few examples of asynchronous development — or developing more quickly in some areas than others. It's common for gifted children.

A gifted 8-year-old could display the reading skills of a 7th grader, the math ability of a 5th grader, social skills at their grade level, and the emotional regulation of a much younger student.

2. Emotional depth and sensitivity at a young age

Neuroscientists suggest that gifted children experience more intense emotional reactions to the world around them.

For example, they may have a hard time enjoying shows where a character gets hurt or is sad. Many also have a heightened sense of justice and can experience frustration and disappointment when they feel like a situation is wrong.

Due to their asynchronous development, they may not yet have the emotional regulation skills to navigate those big feelings.

3. Existential questioning

Gifted children often have an insatiable curiosity, especially about the existential aspects of life.

They may be more concerned about issues like death, poverty, climate change and injustices than their peers. Even a movie or book intended for children that tackles the topic of bullying, for example, can prompt them to ask questions about the nature of society.

Questions can range from "What happens when we die?" to "Why do bad things happen in the world?"

4. Unique interests or a mature sense of humor

When a student is making high-level chemistry puns or studying mass transit maps of major cities, parents sometimes worry that their child is missing out on their childhood or not "being a kid."

In reality, their kids may just have a more advanced understanding of a topic than others their age.

5. Underachievement in school

Gifted children have an extreme need for constant mental stimulation. In school, they can be easily bored because they learn things faster than their peers.

When school is not challenging or interesting enough, they may lose their motivation. (Consider how you'd feel after an eight-hour work shift where you are not challenged or engaged.) 

Even though they can do the work easily — they often have excellent reasoning skills and memory — they see no purpose and stop trying.

Gifted kids have massive potential

At its core, giftedness is a brain-based difference that contributes to our vibrant and intellectually diverse world.

Exploring it further in your child can give you a better understanding of who they are, and give them advanced resources to reach their full potential.

See if your state has a gifted organization with local resources and testing options, or use the Davidson Institute's Gifted Testers and Therapists Map to find professionals in your area.

Megan Cannella is the Manager of Family Services at the Davidson Institute, where she has worked since 2019. Before that, she taught college-level humanities for almost a decade. Her work focuses on advocacy and equity in gifted education.

Don't miss:

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

Copyright CNBC
Contact Us