Friday, May 1, 2009

What Does Gifted Mean, Part 2

Yesterday we looked at some observable differences between gifted kids and bright kids. Today, let's look at something more quantifiable. How about a chart that shows you where are all kids tend to fall, normatively within their own age groups. . .

You have heard people toss around terms like standard deviations, normal bell curve, and percentiles. . . Let's explain some of those, and define them as related to giftedness. Take a look at the graph below (I didn't make this; I just copied it from a website because it is very readable).

This is a normal bell curve distribution. You can tell that from its bell shape along the x and y axes. All children fall somewhere on this bell curve when compared to their age level peers. Where they fall is determined by their intelligence level. This is commonly referred to as their IQ.

When we are talking about the average population, you can see they fall between 85-115 in terms of their IQ scores. This is considered one standard deviation's difference, because we move one step away from the middle of 100. This is 70% of the kids at any age level. And there is nothing wrong with that! How could there be, when so many kids are there? This is the level that determines developmental stages, state standards, and normal cognitive development. Most doctors and teachers are directing their attentions to this popular 70%- and are reaching mostly everyone.

But what about the rest?

We are not going to talk about the children to the left. Those are the special needs students and there are many programs and websites that address those kiddoes. I am not saying they don't have advocacy needs; that is just not my particular area of expertise. For our purposes, we are addressing the gifted. To do that, we need to travel right on our bell curve.

If we go right, again, one standard deviation we will fall into the IQ range of 115-130. This is considered a 2 standard deviation difference. Look at how the population drops off. This is only the 13.6th percentile of the population tested. This is considered highly intelligent, or moderately gifted. These people have a higher IQ than roughly 83% of the population. The low end of this spectrum is where most bright kids fall in terms of IQ, and the highest end of this spectrum may qualify for a gifted program or possibly be gifted in one area.

Let's look at the last two standard deviations to the right. These are the top 2-3 percentile of IQ scores and are considered highly to profoundly gifted. Their IQ's are 130 or higher. On a giftedness test, they are scoring in the 97-99th percentile. If you have had your child tested for a gifted program and they score a composite of 97 or 99, that doesn't mean that they got a 97% or a 99%. That means that they scored higher than 99% of all the other students who took the test at their age level. Whoa.

Doesn't that put it into a bit more perspective? Your child did not simply ace a test. Your child has a higher level of intelligence than 95-99% of all other children their age. They think differently than those 95-99% of other kids their age as well! That right there is why it is so important that we learn about and help these special little kiddoes. They are not like their age level peers- clearly! The bell curve doesn't lie. Because these gifted kids are different, they have different needs than bright or average children. That is what this website is all about- helping you help your child as a guide and an advocate.


  1. Sarah,

    I totally just came across your site by chance... reading through it as Madeline is going in for testing next week. Crazy how small the world is. I hope you guys are settling in. I know the kids miss you.

    Keep in touch and thanks for the "review" lesson on giftedness. It has been awhile since I have looked closely at it.

    Take care,
    Gina S.

  2. Looking forward to reading more... My son has Aspergers and was just scored at the 99th percentile for IQ. I want so badly to help him not just FUNCTION in this world, but help him to THRIVE. He's one amazing kid and I can't wait to see what his life will be like and what he'll bring to this world.

  3. Or another way of thinking about it is that there are about 4 million people your child's age and if they are in the 99th they are roughly 40,000 kids out there the same age that are smarter.

    Or if they are in the 99.9th, there are roughly 4,000 same-age kids out there that are smarter.

    It's important to keep these things in perspective.

  4. As a teenager with an IQ of 150 I'd like to point out that it's important not to let parents think their kid is too amazing. This leads to extreme stress for a kid when they don't do as well as they want to. Let your kids be who they want to be, not a genius for you to brag about at the next dinner party. Keep the focus on their success and happiness not their test scores

    1. Thank you for reminding us ambitious parents of why we should be testing our kids--not for bragging rights, but for an educational tool to help our kids get the most out of school and realize their full potential. You are exactly right!

    2. As a grown adult who routinely scored 99.9% on all of his achievement tests and who does have a 160 plus I.Q., these metrics do not measure success. I had abusive parents who created much strife in my life and now, only at the age of 29, am I undoing the damage they have caused. Achievements/success are more important to brag about than I.Q. My parents loved to brag about how smart I was, but they never invested in enriching my childhood. I have aptitudes in art, mathematics, music, and writing. In many of those areas I am more than proficient in, but I never had the help or encouragement of my parents, even with college. Please love your children if they are gifted. Providing them with adequate outlets is more important than how well they test. There are so many more successful people with only average to above average intelligence in this world and so few successful geniuses (by comparison). Nurture seems to in over nature in my experience.

    3. As a current student who scores in the 99.9th percentile, I feel it is very important to allow profoundly gifted children to thrive, not just mentally, but emotionally. I was bullied as a child and have grown up with depression and self-esteem issues. I would argue that it is more important to have an emotionally healthy child than a gifted one: gifted children can grow up feeling that they are unhealthily different or inherently unloveable, especially if they have social challenges (such as Aspergers-like tendencies, which are common with profoundly gifted individuals.) I agree with the above commenter: love your child. Let them grow up strong enough to love themselves, yet keep them humble so that one day they may make a positive difference in the world.

  5. Thanks for this solid information. My daughters composite score just came back at the 99% and I was wondering what that really meant in terms of potential IQ, etc. She also has Aspergers and ADHD. Happily, the school district seems like they do have programs for 2e kids so I was pleasantly surprised.


I love to hear your feedback! This website is intended to be a welcoming and safe space for parents and advocates of the gifted. All wholesome and encouraging questions are invited, as well as questions or concerns relating to gifted topics.