Gifted. Do you watch what you say?

Gifted. Genius. Bright. Intelligent. 2E. Smart. Excitable. Intense. Quirky. Outlier.

Gifted. Do You Watch What You Say?

If you’re reading this, I imagine you have some relationship to giftedness – your child, a student, yourself or a spouse. So you’ve faced the dilemma of figuring out how to talk about being gifted. Like me, you may have bumped up against sensitivities and biases that other folks have about the language you choose. You have learned to navigate these discussions.

Two things about me inform how I approach conversations about giftedness.

  1. I’m very straightforward.
  2. I think that everyone is different and those differences make us interesting. Talking about our differences humanizes us and helps us empathize with other people.

That said, I tend to treat intellectual ability as just another fact of life. It is what it is – good and bad. I’m certain that approach is not comfortable for everyone and that’s fine. This is what works for me.

If I need to have a conversation about giftedness, my approach veers toward the analytic and the quantifiable. I find that those terms are less emotionally laden. Over the years, the language I use has evolved, and I use different language with different audiences.

Teachers, Doctors and Therapists

These are the folks who should know the technical terms surrounding IQ measurement. In conversation with them, I’ll geek out and talk about standard deviations and percentiles. If it isn’t a technical conversation, I may use shorthand – profoundly gifted or PG for Patrick and 2E for Davis. This isn’t an attempt to be elitist; rather it is a method of communicating succinctly. No need to belabor the point – technical terms provide some boundaries to direct the conversation.

Parents of Other Gifted Kids

Honestly, this is the group where I have discovered the most sensitivity about language. I imagine this is because, like us, everyone has found their favorite way to describe their unique situation. Language is powerful and emotive. Raising a gifted child is tougher than it appears and talking about it brings up lots of those mixed emotions. So we have all found ways that work for our families. When my way is different than another parent’s way it can expose raw emotion.

So what do I do? I keep it short. I keep it factual. My go to phrases are gifted, profoundly gifted and 2E. I try not to amplify the point and instead get into a discussion about our experiences – the joys and the challenges.

General Conversation

So this is my exception to using clinical terms to describe intellect – talking with an acquaintance who has no known connection to the gifted community. There are times when I get a quizzical look when talking about my kids. Most 10-year-old boys don’t regularly discuss astrophysics in depth (Patrick), nor are they able to tell you basically any stat about any professional sports player for the last 10 years (Davis).

In a situation like this, when an acquaintance wants to understand more, my favorite phrases are something like “crazy smart” or “phenomenal memory.” The phrases are short and convey a lot of meaning, but they are also meant to be light hearted. If the acquaintance wants to know more about what that means, I’m always willing to discuss.

There really is no right way to talk about being gifted. I’ve found that avoiding elitism and not conveying judgment are good guidelines for our family. What word to you use to talk about the realities of being gifted?


Check out other folks’ take on how they say “gifted” on the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop.

How Do you Say Gifted?



Maggie McMahon is a businesswoman with more than decade of experience building and growing new organizations. She believes that learning should be fun, but recognizes that frustration and worry or boredom and routine can sometimes get in the way. Maggie is excited about building a learning environment that helps kids grow into their confidence and success. Maggie is married and has two children.

Posted in Parenting Tagged with: , , ,
18 comments on “Gifted. Do you watch what you say?
  1. I tend to use outlier as the best term to describe my children. The word gifted bothers so many people and the truth is that gifted is just the starting point of how divergent my children are.

  2. Maggie says:

    Amy – I know what you mean. There is no way that a word or phrase will ever describe the depth and breadth of what is really happening inside my little (not so little?) guys.

    My goal is to find concise language that orients the discussion and then dig in. It is in developing that connection and truly expressing what is happening that people begin to understand.

  3. Lisa says:

    I like your straightforward approach! Most people who engage in conversation with my son realize he is “off the charts” in terms of smarts so I almost never have a reason to use the word gifted. I do use the word asynchronous much more to explain his deficits in executive functioning or that his nonverbal communication is years behind his verbal communication. Of course now that we’re homeschooling I don’t really have to explain this to teachers anymore.

    • Maggie says:

      Lisa – I find that we are in the same boat as you – we don’t have to explain it or name it very often. But – if I need to advocate for my child in some fashion, then I’m totally going to be straightforward. It’s hard to find a solution to an issue, if not everyone understands what we’re facing.

  4. We think a lot alike, lady. 😉 Good post.

  5. You know, I had never really given it much thought, but you are right, the most sensitivity does come from within the group of parents of gifted children. The word gifted does evoke many emotions–biases, past experiences and struggles.

    After reading your post, I also realized that the most difficult situations for me to say the word gifted is when I am crushed from the struggles of raising a 2E child and I just need to vent or ask for help or in need of a little support. When you say my child is gifted and I need support because of the struggles, THAT is when I feel like I am met with the most incredulous looks.

    Thanks, Maggie!

    • Maggie says:

      I agree, Celi. It is much easier for me to talk about my across the board gifted kid than it is for me to find the right language to describe my 2E kid. I remember the first time an educator realized my 2E son was gifted. Most of the time folks mainly see his anxiety – but when this man saw Davis’ verbal strengths and asked me how to help him develop those more, well…I got in my car and cried. Someone actually saw beyond the anxiety behaviors and wanted to help him shine!

  6. Love this and feel the same way: “I think that everyone is different and those differences make us interesting. Talking about our differences humanizes us and helps us empathize with other people.”

    I’ve used crazy-smart too 🙂

  7. Paula Prober says:

    Nice way to organize this topic, Maggie. That’s a good way to think about it. Thanks.

  8. Susanne says:

    I’m very straightforward.
    I think that everyone is different and those differences make us interesting. Talking about our differences humanizes us and helps us empathize with other people.

  9. Noelle says:

    I have tried the straight forward approach but I feel like I do way more explaining than needed instead of just stating Gifted or PG. I feel compelled to explain away the confused looks I get. So, now I just use asynchronous learner or describe my son as the ‘creative’ type because that’s really where his personality comes out. He doesn’t have those defining academic qualities that follow some gifted/pg/2e kids. Honestly, I guess I’m still trying to figure out what to say because we’re still figuring out this new world. He may in fact be 2e but we haven’t gotten that far yet. I’ve recently pulled him out of public school and my most recent conversation with another mom who homeschools 1 day a week was advice on homeschooling. I was trying not to get into too much detail with her because I already felt judged but had to explain that her rigid schedule that she uses with her son is exactly why I pulled my son from school. She’s a friend so I was not trying to be rude but had to just end the conversation because I already knew that everything she was about to suggest was the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish with my son. However, I have found more support than resistance within the gifted community we’ve found. It’s a little saddening to hear that you can’t speak freely and openly with other parents of gifted kids. That has been my only saving grace and what has kept me sane and hopeful for a brighter future. (sorry this is so long!)

    • Maggie says:

      Noelle – Thanks for highlighting how each of us is different – each of our stories are different – and that leads up to approach these issues in our own way. There isn’t a right or a wrong (unless we are being insensitive), there is just what is comfortable.

      I didn’t mean to leave you with the impression that I haven’t found support with the parents of other gifted kids – quite the opposite! We have a great little group in my town and even though we are different, we are supportive of each other. My point was just that other parents of gifted kids have more attachment to one term or another – based on their experiences – so they tend to have more of a reaction if my word doesn’t match their experience or may even illicit painful memories. I think that language about giftedness is more emotionally laden inside the gifted community than it is outside of it.

  10. “There really is no right way to talk about being gifted. I’ve found that avoiding elitism and not conveying judgment are good guidelines for our family.”

    Agree. I love the word asynchronous because a lot of people usually haven’t heard the term used so freely before, they ask what it means and are sincerely curious how one teaches an asynchronous child. If they are genuinely interested, then I usually go further and use words like accelerated and gifted.

2 Pings/Trackbacks for "Gifted. Do you watch what you say?"
  1. […] Gifted: Do You Watch What You Say? ~ The Learning Lab (Maggie McMahon) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *