Gifted & Exceptionally Able

In general, a gifted, talented or exceptionally able child is defined as "having potential in one or more areas that would place him/her in the top 2 to 5% of children of the same age". The key indicator of a gifted child is one who learns things a little earlier, a little faster, a little better, a little differently.

A child can be both exceptionally able in one area, but also have a disability, i.e. Asperger Syndrome or Dyslexia. This is referred to as 'dual exceptionality' (Ref.

The range of characteristics identified for the gifted and talented child includes:

  • Keen powers of observation
  • Learnt to read very early, often before school age
  • Reads widely and rapidly
  • Well developed vocabulary - takes delight in using unusual and new words
  • Has great intellectual curiosity
  • Absorbs information rapidly - often called sponges
  • Very good memory - can recall information in different circumstances
  • Has the ability to concentrate deeply for prolonged periods
  • Very good powers of reasoning and problem solving
  • Has intense interests
  • Possesses unusual imagination
  • Has a great interest in "big" questions, e.g. the nature of the universe, the problem of suffering in the world, environmental issues
  • Very sensitive - perhaps gets upset easily
  • Very concerned about rights and wrongs, and injustices

 (Ref. Centre for Talented Youth, Ireland (CTYI) cited at

Many gifted students achieve academically and are engaged in learning. They may possess exceptional abilities, but most cannot excel without assistance. They need assistance both academically, and emotionally, through understanding, acceptance, support and encouragement. The unmotivated gifted student is often seen as a problem student, with behavior and learning issues.

The Education Act, (1998) makes provision for the education of all students, including those with a disability or other special educational need. ‘Special educational needs’ are defined in the Act as referring to the needs of students who have a disability and the educational needs of exceptionally able students.’ However, a more recent act, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, (2004) in its reference to disability does not explicitly refer to exceptionally able students (Ref. CIDREE Report, March 2010).

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) is the organisation responsible for advising the Minister for Education on curriculum and syllabuses for students with a disability or other special educational needs. NCCA recognises gifted, or exceptionally able children, as a special needs category and has developed draft guidelines for teachers of exceptionally able students. Because these students learn and think differently from other students, they may require supports such as programme modifications to accommodate their advanced abilities to learn. 

Six profiles of exceptionally able students are identified by NCCA:

  • The Successfuls
  • The Challengings
  • The Undergrounds
  • The Dropouts
  • The Double Labeled
  • The Autonomous Learner

These profiles are explained in detail in the NCCA guidelines('Exceptionally Able Students - Draft Guidelines for Teachers' available here). 

Learning Tips and Support strategies

  • Provide appropriate academic challenges
  • Create opportunities to feel connected, less isolated
  • Acceleration – Students can be accelerated across the year or within subjects
  • Curriculum Differentiation – creating extra tasks to extend or stretch the student beyond what the others are studying; richer, more challenging activities
  • Mentoring/cross age tutoring – matching younger or older students with similar interests/abilities to enhance learning of both
  • Independent Negotiated Programs – student interest and skills determine the scale and scope of the project
  • Competitions – individual, team, internal, external e.g. BT Young Scientist

These and other teaching/learning strategies are outlined in detail in CCEA report 'Gifted and talented children in (and out) of the classroom' (available here)

Achievement and Career Progression

Making career choices is challenging for all students, and it can be particularly overwhelming for the gifted/exceptionally able student, who experiences multiple interests and abilities. This in turn opens up many, potential career paths, leading to numerous choices and decisions. 

The ability and capacity "to do anything" can be confusing. It can become an obstacle to setting and achieving goals, or make the student feel that they will disappoint others, because no matter which career path is chosen, there is always a "road not taken". All these thoughts and fears add a further layer of difficulty for the gifted/exceptionally able student. 

Gifted/exceptionally able students often have had very specific goals in mind from an early age, but because they were young, and were not taken seriously, they lose faith in those ambitions.

Other students downplay their giftedness by lowering their academic achievement and their career aspirations. 

It is suggested that instead of focusing on multi interests and abilities, career planning with gifted students can benefit from exploring their values, life-goals and hobby/ leisure activities as a basis for career decision-making.


Canadian Journal of Counselling 'Career Counselling and the Gifted'   

CTYI: Why should we identify gifted children