What is “Gifted” or “High Ability”

"Giftedness” or “high ability” characteristics present themselves differently in every child, just as every individual is unique and exhibits his or her personality. A high ability child might be a motivated high-achiever, but it is equally possible that the child’s abilities might not even be evident at first glance. A high ability student may be one who has strengths in particular academic areas but is average (or struggles) in others. To identify the many different types of giftedness beyond the precocious learner, we need to recognize giftedness across a broad spectrum of children with varying abilities, which may include twice-exceptional students who are high ability learners but are also:
  • *learning disabled
  • *kids whose skills may be masked by socio-economic factors or
  • *gifted underachievers who have fallen into behavioral patterns because they have not been sufficiently stimulated and challenged.
While it is difficult to identify precisely what giftedness is, or even to define it in a single statement, there are a handful of perspectives that may be used to gain a better overall understanding of the concept, including:

The term gifted and talented student means children and youths who give evidence of higher performance capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to develop such capabilities fully.THE JACOB JAVITS GIFTED AND TALENTED STUDENTS EDUCATION ACT

A gifted person is someone who shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression. NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR GIFTED CHILDREN

The Indiana Code defines a student with high abilities as one who:
  1. 1. performs at or shows the potential for performing at an outstanding level of accomplishment in at least one domain when compared with other students of the same age, experience, or environment; and
  2. 2. is characterized by exceptional gifts, talents, motivation, or interests.

"Domain" includes the following areas of aptitude and talent:
  1. 1. General intellectual
  2. 2. General creative
  3. 3. Specific academic
  4. 4. Technical and practical arts
  5. 5. Visual and performing arts

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. THE COLUMBUS GROUP

A student’s “giftedness” or “high ability” can affect a broad spectrum of his or her life (such as leadership skills or the ability to think creatively) but can also be very specific (such as a special aptitude in math or reading). The term “giftedness” refers in general to this spectrum of abilities without being dependent on a single measure or index. It is generally recognized that approximately three million children in the United States, or approximately 10% of the population when you consider all who might be identified in one or more domains.  

There are challenges involved with raising and educating these high ability children as their talents and idiosyncrasies may present themselves in many different ways. High ability students in a typical heterogeneous classroom (i.e., a class with a mix including high ability and learning disabled students, but consisting mostly of “average” learners) might exhibit a higher performance capability and master subjects at a fraction of the time it takes the rest of their class. These students require specifically tailored instruction and benefit from being allowed to explore subjects in greater depth and complexity (rather than just being given “more” work) so that they can continue learning at an accelerated pace.

On the other hand, there may be personal and/or socio-economic factors that could contribute to a high ability child exhibiting negative behaviors or not being the “best student” in class (see: Characteristics of High Ability Children). In such cases, specific strategies might be needed to nurture the child’s inherent talents. Remember, high ability learners include those who have “the potential for showing an exceptional level of performance” based on their innate advanced cognitive abilities. It is crucial that we provide a continuum of appropriate educational services—both in and out of the classroom—to encourage every child so that they may strive to reach that potential.

High Ability vs. Gifted Terminology

You will notice both the terms “gifted” and “high ability” often used interchangeably. When describing characteristics and services for students with higher intellectual capabilities, the state of Indiana now uses the term “high ability” almost exclusively when referring to these students. To clarify, “high ability” and “gifted” are intended to have the same meaning throughout all IAG documentation. There are simply ways in which the word “gifted” fits better into the content of the information given. High Ability, like the word “gifted,” applies to those whose academic abilities and potential are greater than those of their peers.