Labels and the Gifted Diagnosis

Labels. We crave them because they affirm our identity and help us find peer groups where we can relate to people like us.

Labels. We value them because they offer an explanation about a situation and give us a frame of reference to understand what’s going on.

Labels. We need them because they open doors of opportunity and services that meet our special needs.

Labels. We dislike them because they pigeonhole us into stereotypes and expectations that outsiders place on us.

Labels. We resent them because they exclude us when we fail to meet an arbitrary cut-off score.

Working in the highly and profoundly gifted field, I meet many families seeking the gifted label for their child. Their reasons differ. Some families want their children to qualify for Mensa or The Davidson Young Scholar program. Others are trying to appeal a school denial for gifted services. And then there are still other families who have a suspicion they have a bright child but they’re mainly gathering data to figure out a game plan.

When scores come back lower than expected, a range of emotions can arise. Not qualifying as gifted – in a way that is determined by program requirements – can almost feel like a parental failure for some.

The bottom line, however, is that IQ testing is an imperfect process. Other than average or low intellectual ability, results can be effected by an evaluator’s own biases, a child’s need to go to the bathroom (but being afraid to ask), an undiagnosed learning disability, a child and an evaluator not hitting it off, a child’s fear of failure, or any number of other factors that have nothing to do with actual intelligence.

Are you dealing with a missed diagnosis?
Or, is the diagnosis accurate but disheartening?

These questions often can’t be answered. All we know is that the elusive Gifted Diagnosis is gone – at least for one year, until you can retest. But, allow me to remind you of three very important pieces of information about gifted identification.

The Gifted Label can not make your child happier

Many gifted children crave friendship and an intellectual peer group. The lack of gifted identification does not mean your family will never meet other like-minded kids. Sure, being invited to join an exclusive group can open up social opportunities, but simply being around other highly intelligent people is not enough to forge deep or meaningful friendships. Exploring the world and pursuing passions – not because it will help you get into the best college, but because it brings you joy – will lead you to discover your tribe, even without a label.

The Gifted Label will not resolve pervasive behavioral problems

The TV show The Big Bang Theory has been normalizing irritating and even downright obnoxious behavior in the name of quirky genius-hood for 10+ years. The whole that’s-just-who-Sheldon-is kitsch sets our brightest kids up for unrealistic expectations that the world will forgive poor behavior just because they’re an outlier. Yes, highly or profoundly gifted people think and communicate differently and even have unusual senses of humor. And yes, bored children do sometimes get in trouble at school for being off-task or trying to stick up for themselves as they attempt to satisfy their need to learn. But, being identified as gifted doesn’t give a person a pass for rude or mean behavior.

And most importantly –

The Gifted Label does not make you a better parent

We know from research that both genetics and home environment play a role in intelligence. Getting a lucky stroke of DNA and having expendable income that allows you to afford pricey gifted camps may give you bragging rights, but it does not nominate you for Parent Of The Year. Demonstrating unconditional love and support for a child may not quell the boredom of school, but it will let the child know that – label or not – they are good enough just as they are.

While a missed diagnosis or non-diagnosis keeps a coveted label from officially being yours, it does not negate what you know to be true in your heart. You many not gain entry into an exclusive uber-smart club, but raising emotionally healthy kids who believe in their fundamental value – and who still want to spend time with you after they become adults, themselves – remains a goal you can absolutely achieve.

This blog is part of the Hoagies Gifted December 2017 Blog Hop. Visit to read more blogs about the Misdiagnosis Initiative.



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.

3 thoughts on “Labels and the Gifted Diagnosis

  • December 1, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Such important points about parents’ needs and how they look to the gifted label to provide validation or further understanding of their child. So necessary, as parents, to separate our needs from those of our children.

  • December 5, 2017 at 11:53 am

    What a great reminder to keep focused on what really matters! It can get so easy to get caught up in finding the right labels/diagnoses as though that will magically help us parent them “the right way”. Really, kids need to be seen, understood, loved, and accepted with compassion, as they are, regardless of the labels. Thanks for the reminder!

  • December 5, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    You make a great point about the importance of understanding where the parents are coming from and helping them understand as well. I know that I learn so much from conversations with parents and I hope that they learn from me as well.

Comments are closed.