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What Does “Profoundly Gifted” Mean?  FAQ for Parents and Educators

What does the “profoundly gifted” label mean, and why is it significant?  Please see below for frequently asked questions and answers from TPPG leaders, drawn from the work of psychologists and educators who study and work with profoundly gifted students.  

How do you define “Profoundly Gifted?”

Experts define PG using evidence of an extreme level of ability and/or achievement.  The Davidson Institute defines profoundly gifted students as “those who score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ and achievement tests” (Davidson Institute).  In the past, using IQ tests yielding scores above 160, including the WISC-IV extended norms, experts described scores above 130 as “moderately gifted,” above 145 as “Highly Gifted” (HG), above 160 as “Exceptionally Gifted” (EG), and above 180 as “Profoundly Gifted” (PG) (Gross, 2000).  Using the most recent versions of intelligence tests, scores ≥ 145 qualify for services through the Davidson Institute and for membership in TPPG (Davidson Institute; current January 2018). TPPG accepts either ability or achievement scores ≥ 99th percentile.

As a child’s ability and achievement scores increase, according to experts who work with the profoundly gifted, the level of academic work the child can perform (and will need in order to stay challenged and motivated) is likely to increase.  Disabilities, low socioeconomic status, and other factors at school and at home can contribute to gaps between ability and achievement. Professionals who work with profoundly gifted children find that they differ from other gifted children in additional ways, such as greater sensitivity, more extreme concerns about adult worries, and greater challenges in finding like-minded peers (“Serving highly & profoundly gifted learners,” 2009).

Why are different categories needed when describing gifted abilities?

While all gifted children share certain common challenges, some face added challenges which require different educational services and interventions. In the field of gifted education, groups facing extra challenges are called “special populations.”  Special populations include culturally, linguistically, or economically diverse students (CLED), twice-exceptional (2e) students, highly to profoundly gifted students, students impacted by gender and sexuality, urban gifted students, and rural gifted students.  

Just as medical diagnoses help doctors prescribe the right course of treatment, parents and educators find that gifted categories can help educators “prescribe” services and interventions which have been shown through research to result in student success and positive outcomes.  

Why are there services for just PG families?

Profoundly gifted children need inclusion and advocacy from organizations dedicated to all gifted children, but because of the extreme nature of their needs and characteristics, these students and families often need additional, dedicated support.  Many PG students need radical acceleration (3+ years beyond age-grade), and parenting these children comes with unique challenges. The goals of PG parents are the same as the goals of all parents: to support the social and emotional wellness of their children, and to allow their children to reach their potential.  The parenting journey often looks different for PG families, and parents need information, support, and guidance from other parents and professionals who understand these differences. It is important for PG children to have access to other children who share their characteristics and needs.

Some researchers express concerns about the limitations of IQ and achievement data, particularly when assessing children from diverse populations.  When seeking an evaluation for suspected PG level needs, parents concerned about these limitations may wish to inquire about options to submit alternative evidence of ability, such as portfolios, student interviews, or information from adults familiar with the child’s development.  Just like other gifted students, PG children exist in all cultures, racial and ethnic groups, and income levels. Advocates for the profoundly gifted hope that identification practices will continue to improve.

What is acceleration?

As defined by the Texas State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students, acceleration is the “strategy of mastering knowledge and skills at rates faster or ages younger than the norm” (Texas Education Agency, 2009).   Publications by the Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa summarize research on several forms of acceleration, including full grade acceleration (grade skipping), subject acceleration, curriculum compacting, early kindergarten entry, early college entry, and concurrent enrollment (Assouline et al., 2015).  According to researchers, when a gifted student is a good candidate for acceleration, “evidence on the effectiveness of acceleration is very positive. For example, contrary to many people’s expectation, the evidence shows that acceleration does not damage students socially or emotionally. In fact, grade skipping has been found to aid social relations (as well as academic achievement), while concurrent enrolment has been found to enhance psychological adjustment” (Bailey et al., 2004).  A careful evaluation of a student’s ability needs, achievement levels, and other characteristics can help parents and educators work together to make appropriate educational placements. The Iowa Acceleration Scale can offer assistance in making full-grade acceleration decisions (Assouline et al., 2009). Parents who choose to homeschool profoundly gifted children often use a combination of online courses and traditional curriculum materials.

Can students with disabilities have PG level abilities?  

Yes!  Children with both disability needs and gifted needs are called “twice-exceptional,” or 2e.  Disabilities can impact academic achievement and ability testing, however, which can make PG abilities more difficult to identify.  When parents of a child with a disability seek testing to identify gifted needs, they may wish to ask how the disability could impact the child’s assessment.  Subject acceleration may be recommended to provide challenge in areas of strength for 2e profoundly gifted children with extremely asynchronous development.

In students with identified gifted needs, the child’s abilities can also mask symptoms of a disability and delay diagnosis (Webb et al., 2016).  A number of psychologists, diagnosticians, and other professionals are familiar with the diagnosis of disabilities in the gifted population.

Should the PG label be used in Gifted Education?  

In education, any use of labels may involve pros and cons.  TPPG leaders are aware that many students with extreme ability needs remain unidentified, and we are concerned about the needs of all gifted children.  However, just as the “gifted” label allows educators to study and identify certain educational interventions for above-level ability differences, the “profoundly gifted” label is needed for the same reasons.  Without a way to research, discuss, and teach to the extreme differences of the profoundly gifted – academic, behavioral, and emotional – parents and educators cannot advocate for research-based interventions shown to prevent misdiagnosis and underachievement.  Different levels of ability and achievement require different interventions, and in our current educational system, labels can successfully connect student needs with educationally appropriate solutions. From the perspective of families living with PG children, declining to identify and name these abilities and differences would be the equivalent of refusing to identify other significant learning differences.  

I am an educator or professional who works with gifted children, and I would like to learn more about the needs of profoundly gifted children.  Where can I learn more?

Educators can join the Educators’ Guild of the Davidson Institute (https://www.davidsongifted.org/Educators-Guild), may wish to consider some of the resources below, and can contact their district’s GT department or state GT organization to request professional development on special populations in gifted education, including the highly to profoundly gifted.  Your interest and support is critical in helping these children to reach their potential. We thank you for seeking to learn more – these students and their parents will be grateful!

Sources and Further Reading

Assouline, S., Colangelo, N., Lupkowski-Shoplik, A., Lipscomb, J., & Forstadt, L. (2009).  Iowa Acceleration Scale Manual, 3rd Edition.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.  

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., and Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (Eds.) (2015).  A nation empowered: evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students.  University of Iowa.  

Bailey, S., Chaffey, G., Gross, M., MacLeod, B., Merrick, C. and Targett, R. (2004).  Types of acceleration and their effectiveness. Canberra, Australia: Department of Education, Science and Training.  Retrieved from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, Web. https://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10487

Davidson Institute.  IQ and educational needs.  Retrieved from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, Web.  http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10877

Foley Nicpon, M. (2009).  Tips for parents: advocating for the 2E child and the profoundly gifted in a traditional school setting.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Web. http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10571

Gifted Development Center.  Educational planning for highly to profoundly gifted children.  Web.  http://www.gifteddevelopment.com/about-our-center/our-services/k-12-educational-planning/highly%E2%80%94proufoundly-gifted

Gross, M. U. M. (2000).  Exceptionally and profoundly gifted students:  an underserved population. Understanding Our Gifted, Winter 2000.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/underserved.htm

Gross, M. U. M. (2010).  Exceptionally Gifted Children.  Second Edition.  New York: Routledge.  

Gross, M. U. M. (2006).  Exceptionally gifted children: long-term outcomes of academic acceleration and nonacceleration.  Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 29(4), 404-429.  Abstract available on web.  http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.4219/jeg-2006-247

Gross, M. & Van Vliet, H. (2005).  Radical acceleration and early entry to college: A review of the research.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 49 (2).  Retrieved from web.  https://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10349  

Henshon, S. E. (2009).  Serving the needs of highly and profoundly gifted children: an interview with Linda Silverman.  Systems, 19(1), 1-5.  Center for Gifted Education, The College of William and Mary.  Retrieved from web. http://education.wm.edu/centers/cfge/_documents/resources/newsletter/fall09systems.pdf

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.  Highly, exceptionally, and profoundly gifted (resource list).  Web. http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/highly_gifted.htm  

Jackson, P. (2011).  Highly gifted learners.  In J. A. Castellano and A. D. Frazier (Eds.), Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco: Prufrock Press.  

Jackson, P. (2006).  Tips for parents: an integral approach to the social and emotional development of the profoundly gifted.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development.  Web. http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10392

K., Carolyn (2012).  What is highly gifted?  Exceptionally gifted? Profoundly gifted?  And what does it mean? Web. http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/highly_profoundly.htm

Manning, S. and Besnoy, K. D. (2008). Special Populations. In F. A. Karnes and K. R. Stephens (Eds.), Achieving excellence: Educating the gifted and talented. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.  

National Association for Gifted Children.  Acceleration. Web. https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/gifted-education-practices/acceleration

National Association for Gifted Children (2010).  Use of the WISC-IV for gifted identification: position statement.  

Ruf, D. L. (2009).  Five levels of gifted.  Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.  

Schultz, R. (2006).  Tips for parents: the social/emotional needs of the highly/profoundly gifted individual.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development.  Web.  http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10407

Serving highly & profoundly gifted learners (2009).  Gifted Education Communicator, 40 (4), 1-48.  Web. http://www.giftededucationcommunicator.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/200904GECWinter-1.pdf


Texas Education Agency (2009).  Texas State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students.  https://tea.texas.gov/Academics/Special_Student_Populations/Gifted_and_Talented_Education/Gifted_Talented_Education/

Wasserman, J. (2006).  Tips for parents: intellectual assessment of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children.  Davidson Institute for Talent Development.  Web.


Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Beljan, P., Webb, N. E., Kuzujanakis, M., Olenchak, F. R., Goerss, J. (2016).  Misdiagnosis and dual diagnosis of gifted children and adults. Tucson: Great Potential Press.


Organizations for Profoundly Gifted Children

Davidson Institute for Talent Development: https://www.davidsongifted.org/About-Us

Daimon Institute for the Highly Gifted:  http://www.daimoninstitute.com/

PG Retreat:  https://pgretreat.org/

Texas Parents of the Profoundly Gifted: http://www.tppg.org/


© 2018 Texas Parents of the Profoundly Gifted (TPPG) Board and TPPG Advocacy Liaison (Emily VR).  Although reasonable effort has been made to present accurate information, TPPG makes no guarantees of any kind about the information above, including accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.  This article may not be reproduced or transmitted without permission. For questions or comments, please contact tppgliaison@gmail.com.

Last updated April, 2018.