Dear Dr. Sylvia

There Are Truly Many Gifted Children

September, 2013

QOur 14-year-old daughter has numerous disabilities. One is a medical diagnosis of encephalopathy. She is an extremely intelligent child who gets great grades; and, because of this, her school district, teachers, and staff refuse to accept that anything is wrong with her. All they want to talk about is her excellent grades.



AYou may be confusing the word “gifted” with genius and that, of course, is a more rarified category of brilliance. The word “gifted” is actually synonymous with very high intelligence in the intellectual arena or with extraordinary ability in the arts. There are actually many, many of those children in our country, perhaps more than you think.

I had a little conversation with my husband, the statistician in our family, about the number of gifted children. He tells me that each year there are approximately 4.2 million children born. Assuming that approximately 3 percent are gifted, based on a normal distribution, that would give us 126,000 gifted children per year. Multiply that figure by the 12 grades in school and we’re at a little over a million and a half gifted children.

Consider also that there are many kinds of giftedness, such as general intellectual ability; specific academic aptitudes as in math, science, or literature; and children gifted in social leadership and in the arts. We can, therefore multiply that million and a half by at least 8 or 10 categories. It’s accurate that some children have multiple gifts so they shouldn’t be counted twice; but even then, there are truly millions of gifted children in our country.

Schools should take the responsibility for providing appropriate educational opportunities for these children in the same way as they do with other children who have special needs. It’s a tall order and there aren’t exact recipes, but there actually is an educational science for teaching these children to fulfill their potential.

While I don’t think that parents, or even kids themselves, should be bragging or patting themselves on the back for being identified as gifted, they should have appropriate learning opportunities. Those learning opportunities should not and do not interfere with children cultivating social/emotional intelligence if families also encourage children in reasonable friendship and social skills. While there will always be some people at all intelligence levels who don’t do well in the social skills arena, research shows that gifted children, in general, do as well as and sometimes better than most children relative to getting along with peers and taking on social leadership roles. So while there are plenty of gifted children who do have social or emotional problems, the majority don’t and there’s no evidence of harm that comes from involvement in gifted educational programs. There’s plenty of evidence of the success of these programs in preparing children for higher education and for life.

Dr Sylvia RimmDr. Sylvia Rimm is a child psychologist and clinical professor at Case University School of Medicine, author, newspaper and magazine columnist, and radio/TV personality. For free newsletters about “So Your Child is Gifted,” gifted artists, athletes and musicians, or “Keys to Parenting the Gifted Child,” send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for each newsletter to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094. Read Dr. Rimm’s Articles for Parents and Teachers and submit family questions online at All questions are answered.

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