Concise definitions are given although many longer definitions exist.
“The term gifted and talented student means children and youths who give evidence of higher performance capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to develop such capabilities fully.” – from the United States’ federal Javits Act, on grants for low-income families
“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” – The Columbus Group
A brain that is wired differently (in a neurological sense) than most people (“most” defined as per Gaussian statistics or approximately 96% of people in general) to enable faster thinking and/or the ability to make lateral connections that are not apparent to most people – this generally amounts to about 2% of the population in general (the other 2% that fall outside the Gaussian “most people” are those on the opposite end of the spectrum, or the learning challenged). It is important to realize that giftedness is an actual neurological difference and not just a matter of perception (latest brain science research confirms this).
Gifted children are typically identifiable by their asynchronous development – asynchronous development means that they develop at different rates in different areas and are consequently different ages at the same time – to put this in layman’s terms this means they are several different ages at once – they may be 7 years old according to their date of birth, but able to read with the fluency of an adult, do maths like a high school kid, have the handwriting capability of a 7 year old but the typing capability of a teenager, and yet still be struggling with toilet training, for example. There could be many different combinations of how asynchronicity displays itself, but it will definitely be present.
In addition to the accelerated learning capacity, giftedness also typically comes with enhanced sensitivities. In gifted literature, these are known as Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities, named after the Polish-Canadian psychologist who first studied this. These overexcitabilities encompass five broad areas: psychomotor, emotional, sensory, imaginational and intellectual domains. You can liken it to a TV set – average TV sets can receive a handful of channels through their regular antenna, but a satellite equipped TV can receive hundreds of channels. A gifted individual with overexcitabilities has enhanced sensitivities in certain domains and is able to detect nuances that average people cannot. This capacity is inherent and present from birth.
Where giftedness is an inward state of being, talent is an outward manifestation of giftedness. As such, a gifted child may or may not show themselves as talented, depending on whether or not they have been given the opportunity and/or encouragement to develop their inherent potentials. Also, some talents are not necessarily associated with giftedness, such as the ability to spell or the ability to balance a stack of objects on one’s forehead! Yet these are undoubtedly talents in and of themselves.
But there are talents that are associated with giftedness of course, such as a talent in music, mathematics or any other domain. In this sense, we can think of a talent as an outward manifestation of giftedness. Also, intellectual giftedness is typically the one that causes problems in school because school is necessarily targeted at the majority, who are by definition average developers. A child who is only musically gifted or athletically gifted for instance does not face the same challenges as they are typically not forced to fit in with the majority but are given room to develop at their own pace as these domains are typically pursued privately.
The issues arise because intellectually gifted children are typically forced to keep in step with their classmates in compulsory schooling and have no choice in the matter. Such children, who are wired to learn quickly but are artificially forced to learn slowly, find themselves struggling to cope. Think of it this way: it’s like putting a fish in a swimming class with ducks. Both can swim, but the fish has a natural pace of its own and would be hard pressed to keep the same pace as the ducks.