What to Do If You Meet a Gifted Kid in the Wild

You’ve seen them on tv – Reid on Criminal Minds, Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or Young Sheldon, the brothers Crane from Frasier. Gifted people, geniuses in layspeak, full of quirks and visible differences. We laugh, we marvel, we love their character… yet we rarely encounter people like them in our every day lives.

… or do we?

Statistically, no, there aren’t a whole lot of gifted people running around, forming packs in the library and taking over the local comic book stores. But they are out there, roaming, usually fairly well camouflaged. They don’t give away their locations with the tell-tale bowties and glasses you’re looking for, oh no. They’ve adapted and taken on a new form in order to better blend in with their surroundings – human being.

They look like regular people, regular kids even. They wear shirts that don’t button down and aren’t (usually) carrying briefcases, so it’s pretty hard to tell from a casual glance over the plain which solitary figures are the gifted ones. If you see a person running towards you, it’s a pretty good idea to step out of the way whether they’re carrying a travel chess set or not. It’s gotten pretty hard to spot the gifted kids, so it stands to reason that it’s gotten even harder to know what to do should you encounter one. That’s where this handy little guide comes in.

So, what should you do if you happen upon a gifted kid in the wild?

Freeze. They can’t see you if you don’t move.

Totally kidding.

Say hi. One of the reasons their human costumes are so effective at camouflaging the gifted is that they actually are human. They’re people. They’re not superhumans, they’re not freaks, they’re not innately arrogant. They’re people. They have friends and flaws and faults. They won’t ignore you if you don’t start the conversation off by quoting Stephen Hawking, so just say hi.

Since gifted kids can smell blood within a 4-mile radius, make sure you’re not approaching a gifted person without all wounds having been dressed. Also kidding.

Don’t quiz them. Seriously. If you know a kid is gifted, don’t make them prove it to you. They’re not endless trivia fountains and they don’t know everything. Giftedness has more to do with how a brain works than what a brain holds. Those brains can hold an awful lot of amazing stuff, though it’s usually not at all what you’d think to ask them about.  Converse, don’t quiz. My kids aren’t novelties, they aren’t there for your entertainment or your tests. Let them be more boy than brain or more girl than gift.

Get to know who they are instead of poking around for what they know. 

Immediately feel threatened by their gifted label. Also kidding, though this seems to be a horribly common reaction. Recognizing giftedness in one child does not negate the abilities or gifts in another. Gifted is a category, in some cases a diagnosis. It relates to IQ score and asynchronous development, not competition and elitism. The intellectually gifted are not an aggressive species, so there is no need to defend yourself or your children upon an encounter with one of their kind.

If you meet a gifted kid in the wild, don’t expect them to behave like Reid, Sheldon, or even the gifted kid you know next door. Because the pool of gifted people is so small and characterized by being so far removed from the intellectual norm, they’re all vastly different from one another. There are characteristics that can be recognized as typical, but remember that you are dealing with an atypical group. They don’t travel in pods or have a secret handshake. They can struggle. They can have learning disabilities, mood or personality disorders, sensory issues, physical disabilities, or none of the above. Some gifted kids get along fine in life and others wage internal battles. Some gifted kids get all A’s and some fail classes. Some love museums and some are so overwhelmed by anxiety that they can’t bear to visit one. Giftedness doesn’t look like a stereotype, so brace yourself to be surprised by the person you encounter.

Do not, under any circumstance, utter the phrase, “Every child is gifted”. This will be interpreted by the mother of the free-ranging gifted kid as a sign of aggression. Yes, every child is A gift, and yes, all children have gifts, but no, not every child is gifted. This would be akin to saying every child is dyslexic, every child is diabetic, every child is tall. Giftedness is a label applied based on IQ and how often it occurs relative to the norm. It is a quantifiable deviation, a measurable difference, and by definition cannot apply to everyone. Acknowledging the giftedness of a child is not an affront to your own precious jewels at home. Giftedness does not make a child better or worse than the neurotypical kid next to them. It’s just how their brain works, and it’s who they are. To dismiss their uniqueness by applying it broadly to everyone is to ignore the black-and-white data that proves they are different. And to be honest, gifted kids are one of the most underserved populations in schools, often dismissed as having no real needs or being “smart enough” to adapt themselves that they can be sent to a corner with a book and a high five. Gifted parents are tired of having to fight the stereotypes and feelings of elitism that get applied to their kids’ unique needs, so they’re likely to turn on you if you get snippy or dismissive.

Treat them normally. No really. Gifted kids are, in reality, kids. They get excited about stuff like Minecraft, princesses, farts, and candy. They also get excited about physics, coding, art, literature, architecture, engineering, paleontology, trains, plains, automobiles, and in my kiddos’ case, various local laws and ordinances surrounding exotic animals in the US. The odd duck still waddles like a duck. They’re not a typical kid, but they’re still kids. Intellectually they may be decades ahead of their age peers, but emotionally and socially they may be a little behind. Just because a kid has an adult brain doesn’t mean they have the capacity to know what to do with it. Imagine getting a Hennessey Venom GT as a newly-licensed 16-year-old (car reference provided by the automobile-obsessed kid). It’s a powerful, fast, expensive car that will catch a lot of looks and do a lot of stuff, but you, the inexperienced and even timid driver don’t know just how to handle it. No matter how cool and different your car is, you’re still a teenager who isn’t that great at driving it yet. These kids are in a similar seat – so much power under the hood, but little capacity to harness it yet. Let them be kids. Don’t scoff if they mess up or turn your nose up if they make a fart sound under their armpit. Having trouble tying their shoes or regulating their emotions doesn’t make them imposters, it makes them kids.

Seriously, don’t be threatened. I can’t stress this enough. While not all entirely docile, they’re also not predators. The way the gifted brain is wired means that emotions and sensations are experienced differently, intensely. Whoa. There is no disappointment, there is devastation. There is no jolly, there is elated. These kids are intense, but they’re not threats. They’re not out to make you or your kids look bad. They just are what they are, and if a child makes an adult feel insecure, then the adult is who needs more self-examination. I can’t say it enough – they’re kids. Not threats. They don’t need to be taken down a notch or knocked off any pedestals. Don’t make it a personal mission to add gifted kids’ self esteem to your trophy room. Whatever they are is not representative of what you or your child isn’t – it’s just who they are.

Don’t armchair diagnose or assume different = disorder. Yes, there are a huge number of gifted people who are twice exceptional – who are gifted and have a learning disorder, mood disorder, or some other type of hurdle. A person can have an IQ of 170 and be dyslexic, hyperactive, autistic, or even incontinent. Gifted people are not immune to the misfirings and crosswirings of the brain. But they are also not all coping with additional diagnoses. I’ve been asked more than once, “What’s wrong with him?” Apart from your rudeness, not much. My profoundly gifted child is quirky and he has struggles that make some tasks or situations hard or even unbearable for him, but that doesn’t mean what you think it means. I’m really just beating around the bush – all gifted people are not autistic. Lots are, but not all are. It does an immense disservice to the autistic community to assume different always equals autistic, or autistic always equals quirky. You can’t lump a bunch of stuff together you don’t relate to and call it autism. For every time I’ve been asked what’s wrong with my child, I’ve been asked 30 times if he’s been evaluated for autism spectrum disorder. Yeah, 4 times now. Nope, 5. If autism is an interest or a concern for you, then please educate yourself via the immense resources and willing families available now. If you want to understand more about what makes a different person so different, ask them. If a child has a diagnosis, that is his family’s journey and not one you’re entitled to. Explore instead of stereotype. Get to know someone for who they are and not any labels that may pop up.

While not endangered or protected, please refrain from making a gifted child a trophy. Remember, they’re kids, not novelties.

I hope this guide proves helpful as you resume your interactions among the people around you. Remember that all people are people, all kids are kids, and all should be treated accordingly. The gifted children sprinkled around the edges of the herd are no danger to you, so allow yourself the opportunity to appreciate them in their natural habitat – childhood. Take in their creativity and ability to think outside of the box. Note their intense emotions and, while they can prove mercurial at times, how they inspire change and empathy and passion. Drink in their humor, their sarcasm, the language that far exceeds their years. It’s okay to laugh when one trips and falls, kids do that. But let yourself appreciate just how beautiful and unique and cool they are the next time you find yourself face to face with a gifted kid in the wild.



Author: Jen

I am the wife of an insanely hot husband and the momma of three precious and exhausting kiddos. I have been given way more than I could ever deserve and I really love naps.

51 thoughts on “What to Do If You Meet a Gifted Kid in the Wild”

  1. You continue to blow me away, friend. I think my favorite bit, just for the humorous relatability (this may not be an actual word…) is “Gifted kids are, in reality, kids. They get excited about stuff like Minecraft, princesses, farts, and candy.” Thank you for this!

    1. Thank you so much for reading!!! I knew you’d get every word of it. 😅

    1. Can you imagine how complicated it would be?! 😂

      1. Nicole Bissell says:

        Bah ha ha ha ha! Totally!

  2. Thank you so much for writing and sharing such an accurate and passionate article! I am a gifted specialist and your words and thoughts are spot on. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh goodness, thank you so much for this!

    2. Evelyn Colak says:

      Hi can I contact you?

  3. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked by other parents if our son is autistic or, in the case of a few momentarily-brazen souls, I’ve actually been TOLD by other parents that he is. We have had him evaluated for that possibility—twice, actually, because as a first time parent, I worried that I was misreading him. But people just cannot seem to stop themselves.

    Sigh…I wish everyone would read this and recognize their own assumptions in it.

    1. Goodness I relate to your frustration. Parents see and worry over their kids more than anyone – believe us when we say we’ve noticed behaviors long before anyone else!

    2. Victoria, same here. People ask this about our 5 y/o. And we’ve also had him evaluated twice by an autism expert. He’s not. Just gifted with massive asynchronous development. (You know how people joke about things like “That kid’ll know algebra before he’s out of diapers.” Well, he does get algebra, and he still wears a pull-up at night. The “joke” is just real life around here!)
      And he liked to say “3.141592654; that makes a Pi!” when he was two. I like how our pediatrician put it then: “He has plenty of quirks and tendencies, but this ISN’T Spectrum.”

      And yeah, it’s not a threat. He’s a sweet little boy.

      Good luck to you, and to all of us! Great article, Jen.

  4. Great read thank you! I’ve got four sons and three so far tested in HG and PG range. And all sooooo different!!

    1. Isn’t it funny how different they all can be when sharing such a rare trait?? Two of my three are confirmed gifted and the caboose we strongly suspect is, as well. But they are so wildly different from one another it’s taken a while to actually recognize it in all of them, haha! I bet you have a blast with a house full of boys. 💙

  5. Another amazing piece! I love you! I love that I have someone like you who is on my side! Someone to live this life with, someone who can relate with how I feel, someone who is so spot on and puts all the feels so beautifully into words! Thank you!

  6. Whoa. This is so perfect. Exactly right on, my friend! I’m the mother of three highly gifted kiddos, and as mentioned before, three UNIQUELY different kiddos, at that! In fact, my eldest asked me if our middle was autistic, because she is “different” than he is. I even questioned myself at that point. So, we ask the doctor at the next visit if this is likely, and he looks at me like I’m crazy! And says, she is “different” than he is, different doesn’t mean autistic. Bam!

  7. I love this line: gifted kids are one of the most underserved populations in schools, often dismissed as having no real needs or being “smart enough” to adapt themselves that they can be sent to a corner with a book and a high five.

    We have experienced this soooo much! It’s hard on the child!

    1. It really is! I’m so sorry this has been your experience.

    2. Deborah Bauer says:

      I feel your pain. I love love this article written by someone who really gets my reality. Thank you Jen, this is what I needed today.

  8. What about Bones?? Lol!
    I have 2 under my roof and there are nights when watching CM or TBBT or even Bones occasionally, that my hubby and I look at one another and go ‘we could totally see one of them doing that’. Sometimes we kid that watching Reid, Sheldon, Hodgins, and Bones is great note taking time for knowing what to head off at the pass later. (We have a blossoming Hodgins I’m almost certain).
    But I’ve had people (teachers) tell me my child shouldn’t get special treatment, that I shouldn’t tell anyone he is gifted, that he just needs to learn to be bored and not disruptive. I homeschool now so they can self pace and people tell me to stop pushing them so hard, like I’m hot housing them instead of the reality where school books get locked away only for both of them to get blank paper and make their own worksheets.

    1. So few people know what it’s really like to raise these kids, yet so many have opinions about them! I homeschool my middle one now, and it’s been an amazing change. Oh, and I’ve never watched Bones or TBBT? I always say the Sheldons I have are enough! Hahahaha!

    2. … that last sentence. One of mine thinks it is quite hilarious to make worksheets for me to do instead of her.

  9. This article really resonated… I can remember back to the days when other parents would comment in some surprise about my now-18-year-old, “she’s so normal even though she’s so smart!” — I never knew quite how to respond to that.

  10. I miss that brain. :). And the other one, too. Thank you for advocating in such a huge way. Gifted kids deserve it.

    1. None of it would be possible without you!

  11. Very good! Except the socially and emotionally a little behind. Not true.

    1. Not for all, but definitely the case for many. 😕

  12. Absolute perfection! You found the perfect words to describe my zany life. My child and I both thank you!

  13. Thanks for the wonderful post, Jen. I love it. I have two of those adorable, gifted creatures and life is a real adventure with them. I wouldn’t want them any other way, even if I’m knackered by the evening. They bring so much bubbly joy to our family, and I absolutely admire them for how they master childhood trying every day to blend in with the other kids. However, to me, they will always stand out!

  14. I am a gifted consultant who has worked with and for gifted kiddos and their families for 25 years and counting. As I read your piece I found myself thinking, I wish I’d written this. Thank you for your thoughtful, witty, insightful writing.
    You make so many important points, but one that stands out to me is “ … they’re kids. Not threats. They don’t need to be taken down a notch or knocked off any pedestals.” Thank you for reminding folks that crushing one child’s ego isn’t the way to build their child’s or their own.

    1. Thank you so much, Cathy. It always shocks me how people react to these kids, though I’m sure by now you’ve seen it all! Thank you for the work you do!

  15. Wow…just wow…I wish I could force every person I’ve ever interacted with or had to defend my children around to read your words. Absolutely spot on! The struggle is a beautiful, beautiful journey with this amazing minds, but it’s still a struggle sometimes. People who don’t live it, don’t get it. So thank you for articulating this in a way I’ve not been able to. <3

  16. Wow. I think may be the best thing I have ever read about how to relate to a gifted kid. It’s like you reached into my brain and pulled out my thoughts.

  17. Christina King says:

    Thank you Jen. Our daughter was identified as gifted 5 years ago (she is now 11) and then ADHD and Asperger. Reading your article and I am nodding my head with, yes this is so true. This year she has had a teacher who has nearly destroyed her self esteem and she started doubting her ability. We have pulled her out of the formal classroom environment and next year she will be doing distance education at home. She is amazing, intense and so sensitive. She is loved by younger children because she takes the time to listen to their imaginations and helps them to understand some of the things they are learning at school. Older kids love to include her in their discussions and adults enjoy her company. She is learning how to manage her own age group who find her ‘abnormal and weird’ (their words). Once again, thank you, I needed to read your article today and it has put a smile on my face.

    1. Great commentary for those within and outside of gifted community. I was wondering though, is the term ‘gifted’ only being applied to high IQ? I thought it was more being used and understood nowadays in terms of the multiple intelligences? Eg, so a person could be gifted with music, balance, etc.

  18. Kimberly White says:

    Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  19. Hilarious and so true! Thanks!
    Can I have your permission to translate this into Dutch? I’ll write your name as the source ofcourse.

    1. Absolutely! And I’d love to see it in Dutch, thank you!!!

  20. Thank you! My daughter is gifted and such a joy! I’ve been very Carey’s d aware as to support her exploring and adventurous nature! I am gifted but did not have that support and years later my self confidence is so shaky. I don’t want that for her! Thank you again!

  21. I’m a college student who is admittedly behind the curve when it comes to “real life stuff”. I’ve been to therapists where my uniqueness was passed over and broadly applied to others. It wouldn’t be until I’d tell them I’m a Mensa member that they would detract from their constant attempts to alter my ego and knock me down a peg, and even still, called “over-ambitious” when I would share my goals, ambitions, and genuine hopes for my life and future despite being twice exceptional, when in fact, it was more the case of me wanting potential to meet opportunity and possibility. I don’t see this therapist anymore.

    I’ve had numerous people tell me I’m “off”, “not quite right”… and one student just last semester, during a group assignment in a grief counseling course I’m taking (I’m going for a Human Services/Psych degree), flat out told me — “I thought you were autistic”. The reason for this: the information I was able to spit out in class.

    I’m memorizing this whole thing so that I can kindly rebut the oft-wrong stated to my face assumptions about me. I don’t go around “bragging” or “showing off”. In fact, except if stimulated and engaged, I’m quite quiet and shy.

    1. That is enormously frustrating, Samuel. I’m so, so glad you’re advocating for yourself and being YOU.

  22. Jaquine Hudson Bly says:

    I am an old (71) genius from a screwed-up childhood. There are endless reports describing the experiences of the gifted child as reported by parents and teachers. Does anyone know of research reports on how the world looks from the gifted child’s point of view in the early years, 4-7 years of age?

    1. Interesting! I’ll ask my gifted community!

  23. Hi, it´s my third attempt to leave a comment, hopefully it will work this time :).

    I’m really impressed by your guide. I’m so enthusiastic that I’ve translated it (freely) into Dutch, so more people can get to know about our gifted children. I hope you are okay with that?
    Of course I mention you and your website in the subscription.
    Thanx for your inspiring post.

  24. Deanna McLearn says:

    I was a teacher of a gifted program for 11 years– when students were tested by at least 3 types of tests a team would select who should go into the program. I remember calls from some parents after that time who would question our decisions. Because their child had scored very high on the basic skills tests, they thought they had a genius on their hands. It was difficult to explain the process. It is hard to know if we chose the right students. But we did what we knew.

  25. Love, love, love this!! ❤️

  26. Linda Green says:

    My now 20 year old 2E son is explained best by your words
    (gifted kids are one of the most underserved populations in schools, often dismissed as having no real needs or being “smart enough” to adapt themselves that they can be sent to a corner with a book and a high five). I remember in 1st or 2nd grade his teacher, instead of giving him more challenging work had him walking around the the classroom helping out the other students with their work.
    I would like to think things have improved for gifted children but sadly I doubt they have.
    I was told once that students working towards a teaching degree were given a total of 6 hours of instruction on how to work with gifted children but several weeks of instruction for children on the other side of the bell curve. I hope things start to improve for these underserved kids.

  27. Ellen Boling says:

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this oh-so well-written piece!
    My gifted kids will turn 32 & 35 in the next month, but this reminds me SO MUCH of their growing-up years….!
    I have long said that the best thing that ever happened to my kids’ educations was that when they were 7 & 10 years old, we moved from Oregon, (where all funding to serve gifted kids had just been cut from the state’s public school budget), to Albuquerque, NM.
    New Mexico is home to Los Alamos & it’s offspring, Sandia National Lab. As I understand it, sometime after WWII, funding for gifted education was added to the Special Education budget – & is still so funded. In other words, there’s a BUNCH of smart people here. (Our next-door-neighbor is a rocket scientist. Really.)
    And yet, we still met with the “Every child is gifted” line, & my kids each had several more of the experiences you describe so well here.
    As my BIL said long ago, “Being Gifted is kinda like being tall – not necessarily a GIFT”.
    But I wouldn’t trade my mine for ANYTHING.

  28. Anonymous says:

    This is a charming article with a lot of great points, BUT:
    Being gifted is not SO rare – it’s about a 1 in 50 phenomenon.
    Some gifted children ENJOY being quizzed by random adults – especially in their area of expertise.
    Many academically gifted people enthusiastically agree that “Everyone is Gifted” God gives gifts -generously – and He gives them to everyone. Just because my gift is different from yours, doesn’t mean you don’t have one. Perhaps we should say “Academically Gifted” if that’s what we mean. Really, we’re talking about a High IQ – if we just said that directly rather than using euphemisms, the reactions would be different. Very few would counter, “Well, everybody has a high IQ!”
    One gifted person, or one “expert” on giftedness, cannot speak for an entire population. Everyone is unique, and we each have different perspectives on these things.

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