This article was published, citation information below.


Ang, M. (2006). Mensan Parenting column in Triple-M, Malaysian Mensa Magazine, Dec2006-Jan2007 bumper issue.

Since this is our bumper issue, I thought I’d cover a bumper topic that should be of concern to all Mensans. To help me organize my thoughts, I’ve decided to do this in a Q&A format. Please read through my entire article – if you as a Mensan ever have any children (past, present or future), I guarantee that this article is relevant to you.

Why do we as Mensans need to know about Gifted Children?

Mensans need to educate themselves on giftedness in children because giftedness is predominantly an inherited trait - parents' IQ scores are often within 10 points of their children's; even grandparents' IQ scores are often within 10 points of their grandchildren's [1]. What this means is that if you are Mensa material, chances are high that your children will be too. “So what?” you may then ask, “What difference does it make?” There are compelling reasons to correctly identify the Gifted Child. I would like to reproduce here my own list [2], which I extracted from information within reference [1] in my list of references below.
  1. Gifted children have SPECIAL NEEDS. They are NOT like other children and ignoring their giftedness leads to later emotional problems. This is because gifted development is asynchronous, meaning different aspects of the child's development progress at different rates - for example, a particular 7 year old child may be reading at the level of an average 10 year old, doing maths at the level of an average 14 year old, but only have the emotional maturity of a typical 4 year old. This uneven development can lead to serious problems if not understood and handled correctly. It is therefore important to identify your gifted child as such.
  2. Giftedness is not limited to only child prodigies and the profoundly gifted. Another big area of misunderstanding about giftedness is we tend to think of the gifted as those prodigies or those profoundly/exceptionally gifted - however, "gifted" typically applies to the top 2% of the population, with a "qualifying IQ" of 130. This means that statistically 1 in 50 are gifted, not such a rare occurrence after all - but also not so common considering there still remain 49 out of 50 not classified as such.
  3. Mildly, moderately, highly and profoundly gifted children are as different from each other as mildly, moderately, severely and profoundly retarded children are from each other, but the differences among levels of giftedness are rarely recognized.
  4. When one child in the family is identified as gifted, the chances are great that all members of the family are gifted.
  5. Giftedness can be observed in the first three years by rapid progression through the developmental milestones. These milestones should be documented and taken seriously as evidence of giftedness. Early identification of advanced development is as essential as early identification of any other exceptionality. Early intervention promotes optimal development.
  6. Gifted children's IQ scores become depressed at approximately 9 years of age due to ceiling effects of the test. The ideal age for testing is between 4 and 8.
  7. Gifted children often have hidden learning disabilities.
  8. Children in the top and bottom 3 percent of the population have atypical developmental patterns and require differentiated instruction. Children in the top and bottom 10 percent of the population are not statistically or developmentally different from children in the top and bottom 15 percent, and it is not justifiable to single them out for special treatment.
Many of you reading this may possibly be thinking “nobody ever recognized or helped me as a gifted child and I turned out ok” or something along those lines. My own parents knew nothing about the special needs of gifted children. But does this mean we should ignore the special needs of our own children and leave them to fend for themselves? I would say the answer to this question is an emphatic NO! I would like to reiterate one point from my list above: early intervention promotes optimal development. It is very important to understand that while intellectual potential is genetically predetermined, whether or not a particular individual fulfills his or her potential depends on his or her experiences while growing up. It is also equally important to realize that no amount of nurture, coaxing or cajoling can cause an individual to go beyond his or her inherent capabilities (in other words, the idea that anyone can be a genius if only given the right nurture is patently false, an invention of those marketing their related products). Reference [3] provides some insights on the nature-nurture debate with regards IQ.

What are the early signs of giftedness?

To answer this question, I would like to cite the exceedingly useful and informative Ruf Levels of Giftedness [4]. This entire paragraph is summarized from this document and the reader is recommended to read the complete original article.

Ruf’s study [4] correlated information on early childhood behaviour and achievement of typical milestones with later concrete identification of giftedness through IQ testing. In summary, she identified 5 levels of giftedness ranging from moderately gifted to gifted, highly gifted, exceptionally gifted and profoundly gifted. The IQ scores used in her chart below are based on the SB-5 and WISC-IV scales, not the Cattel scale used in the general Mensa qualifying test (the former have 98th percentile scores at 130 while the latter has 148).

Levels of Giftedness Approximate Score Range Descriptive Designation
Level One117-129Moderately Gifted 120-124/Gifted 125-129
Level Two125-135Highly Gifted
Level Three130-140Exceptionally Gifted
Level Four135-141+Exceptionally to Profoundly Gifted
Level Five141+
(but still not always a Level Five even with these scores)
Exceptionally to Profoundly Gifted

Ruf’s article contains detailed descriptive lists of early signs of giftedness for children from each of these levels. Mensan parents should read her lists carefully to look for telltale signs in their own children. A very brief extract of some of her findings are presented in the chart below. It is important too to realize that not all gifted children exhibit all these signs – some are late developers.

Level of GiftednessEarly signs
Level OneStart kindergarten with end-of-year skills already mastered
Level TwoMaster most kindergarten skills one to two years before kindergarten (by age 4)
Level Three
  • Master majority of kindergarten skills by age 3 or 4
  • Most spontaneously read with or w/o previous instruction before kindergarten
  • Most read simple chapter books by age 5-6
  • Most intuitively use numbers for all operations before kindergarten
  • Level Four
  • Majority of kindergarten skills by age 3
  • Majority at 2nd-3rd grade equivalency in academic subjects by early kindergarten
  • Majority at upper high school grade equivalencies by 4th-5th grades
  • Show concern for existential topics and life’s purpose by early elementary school age
  • Level Five
  • Majority have kindergarten skills by about 2½ years or sooner
  • Majority spontaneously read, understand fairly complex math, have existential concerns by age 4-5 with or without any instruction
  • Majority have high school level grade equivalencies by age 7 or 8 years old, mostly through their own reading and question asking

  • Another very useful reference in identifying giftedness in young children is reproduced below. Please read the original article [5] for details of their research findings [1, 5].

    Parents are excellent identifiers of giftedness in their children: 84% of the children whose parents say that they fit ¾ of the following characteristics score at least 120 IQ (the superior range). Over 95% show giftedness in at least one area, but are asynchronous in their development, and their weaknesses depress their IQ scores.

    Compared to other children, your child's age, how many of these descriptors fit your child?
    • Reasons well (good thinker)
    • Learns rapidly
    • Has extensive vocabulary
    • Has an excellent memory
    • Has a long attention span (if interested)
    • Sensitive (feelings hurt easily)
    • Shows compassion
    • Perfectionistic
    • Intense
    • Morally sensitive
    • Has strong curiosity
    • Perseverant in their interests
    • Has high degree of energy
    • Prefers older companions or adults
    • Has a wide range of interests
    • Has a great sense of humor
    • Early or avid reader (if too young to read, loves being read to)
    • Concerned with justice, fairness
    • Judgment mature for age at times
    • Is a keen observer
    • Has a vivid imagination
    • Is highly creative
    • Tends to question authority
    • Has facility with numbers
    • Good at jigsaw puzzles

    What is the difference between advanced development and giftedness?

    Advanced development refers to children who meet developmental milestones ahead of the norm. Giftedness is typically related to achieving a specific IQ score. An advanced child may or may not turn out to be gifted. Likewise, some gifted children are late developers, but typically when they do achieve a milestone they progress extremely quickly compared to normal children. An example of this is the non-early reader – some gifted children only learn to read once they go to school, but once they do start reading they progress by leaps and bounds and typically achieve reading levels that other children take years to master in a matter or months or even weeks. The reverse is also true, especially with the myriad of so-called early reader programs currently in vogue – children who are taught to read early (as opposed to being essentially self-taught) and who enter kindergarten already being able to read are not necessarily gifted. The trend towards “hot housing” or “front loading” where very young children are pressed into early academic learning is actually counterproductive and trains only the young child’s rote learning ability, typically at the expense of creativity and true learning. Such children often burn out by the age of 8 or 9 when other children catch up and even overtake them. Truly gifted children on the other hand do not need such early pushing and typically pursue their own interests, which may or may not include academics, but typically include plenty of imagination and the other early signs of giftedness as described in the previous section of this article.

    What are Twice-Exceptional Children?

    These are intellectually gifted children with additional special needs such as dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome or other learning disabilities. In such cases, the disability often masks the child’s true IQ, and such children need early intervention to ensure they not only are able to live normal but fulfilling lives that reach their true potential. We do not have the space to discuss this topic in further detail here, so I suggest interested readers look up reference [6].

    Other Issues

    In closing, I would like to list a miscellany of conditions associated with (or sometimes mistaken for) advanced development as well as giftedness in young children.

    Hyperlexia. This is a disorder where a very young child learns to read at an extremely advanced level at a very early age. The following description is quoted from Wikipedia [7]

    Children with hyperlexia may recite the alphabet as early as 18 months, and have the ability to read words by age two and sentences by age three. Many are overly fascinated with books, letters, and numbers. Often their ability is looked at in a positive light, so many parents delay their children receiving help because they believe that their child may be a struggling genius.

    It is however a syndrome, with specific characteristics described in reference [8]. Independent or self-taught early reading in itself is one of the more reliable signs of giftedness (typically all self-taught early readers are gifted, though not all gifted children are early readers), however children with hyperlexia have precocious reading skills with lack of comprehension and also lack corresponding verbal skills. Please look up reference [8] for further details.

    Echolalia. This is defined as the involuntary parrot-like repetition or echoing of a word or phrase just spoken by another person. It is not uncommon in young children and many outgrow it, but if it continues it signifies a variety of conditions or disorders.

    Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID). This condition occurs in a significant minority of gifted children. Children with SID can be either hyposensitive (seeking extra stimulation) or hypersensitive (avoiding stimulation) to outside stimuli of any or several of the five senses, typically touch, but also smell, taste, sight and hearing. Reference [9] has more details.

    Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities. [10]. Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five "overexcitabilities" or "supersensitivities" - psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational – commonly present in gifted children, who typically exhibit more than one of these intensities with one being dominant. The following is extracted from reference [10]. Parents are encouraged to read the original article for further details, all of which are typically relevant.

    The five overexcitabilities [10]
    PsychomotorThe primary sign of this intensity is a surplus of energy. Children with a dominant psychomotor overexcitability are often misdiagnosed with ADHD since characteristics are similar.
    SensualThe primary sign of this intensity is a heightened awareness of all five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Children with a dominant sensual overexcitability are can get sick from the smell of certain foods or as toddlers will hate to walk on grass in their bare feet. The pleasure they get from the tastes and textures of some foods may cause them to overeat. It is less extreme than SID (explained earlier).
    EmotionalThe primary sign of this intensity is exceptional emotional sensitivity. Children with a strong emotional overexcitability are sometimes mistakenly believed to have bipolar disorder or other emotional problems and disorders. They are often the children about whom people will say, "He's too sensitive for his own good."
    IntellectualThis intensity is the one most recognized in gifted children. It is characterized by activities of the mind, thought and thinking about thinking. Children who lead with this intensity seem to be thinking all the time and want answers to deep thoughts. Sometimes their need for answers will get them in trouble in school when their questioning of the teacher can look like disrespectful challenging.
    ImaginationalThe primary sign of this intensity is the free play of the imagination. Their vivid imaginations can cause them to visualize the worst possibility in any situation. It can keep them from taking chances or getting involved in new situations.


    1. Silverman, Linda. What We Have Learned About Gifted Children, 1979 – 2002. Gifted Development Center. Available at
    2. Ang, Minni. What You Need to Know in a Nutshell. National Association for Gifted Children, Malaysia. Available at
    3. Neill, James. Nature versus Nurture in Intelligence. Available at
    4. Ruf, Deborah L. Ruf Estimates of Levels of Giftedness. Available at
    5. Silverman, Linda. Characteristics of Giftedness. Gifted Development Center. Available at
    6. Warshaw, Meredith G. Uniquely Gifted. Resources for Gifted Children with Special Needs. Available at
    8. American Hyperlexia Association website, available at
    9. Sensory Integration Dysfunction, available at
    10. Bainbridge, Carol. Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities or Supersensitivities in Gifted Children. Available at


    Copyright ©2006 Minni Ang