Don’t assume the school will recognize your child’s abilities - they teach to age and grade level, not specific abilities

You need to know how your child compares to others, both intellectually and academically, before you choose a school:

  • Is my child unusually smart or advanced, and how can I tell? Read more…
  • How do I ignite and encourage my child's gifts and talents? Read more…
  • Do I know the appropriate educational and school options for my child? Read more…
  • What are his/her emotional and social needs? How do I address them? Read more…
  • What resources are available for helping with these issues? Read more…

The Ruf Estimates™ Kids IQ Test (Online Assessment) will provide answers to these questions and actions you can take to secure the best schools and learning environments for your child.

What Is An Intelligent Woman?

I wrote this article in 2008 and it was originally published in The Eleusis, the Alumna magazine for Chi Omega Sorority.

What is an intelligent woman? The answer depends on whom you ask and at what time in her life. I had many assumptions about my future when I was a Chi Omega at Ohio Wesleyan: become an elementary school teacher, marry, have children, and be a school principal while raising my family. My plans started well, but unexpected circumstances made my path less direct. Life is a journey and sometimes you change your mind about what you really want to do as you experience more of it. For intelligent women, as for anyone really, life is more satisfying when we get to follow our passions and use our abilities to their best. Whatever our intellectual profile, we are at our smartest when we do what we were designed to do.

I work with families. I assess children and consult with their parents, so I will talk about women who have children. In this country people who marry each other have IQs that are—on average—within 12 points of each other. Basically, they get each other’s jokes and that’s generally an attractive beginning. The probability that their children will be within 15 IQ points of the parents’ average is about 67%. My point is this: the mothers of the gifted children I see are also likely to be smart, gifted women.

I’m now doing what I love—what I seemed to be made for—but it hasn’t always been clear and I must admit that I stumbled into this. I did indeed teach elementary school, raise a family, and train to be a school administrator. But when my own three sons, all clearly very bright, experienced difficulties in school, I started to learn everything I could about intelligence: what is it, where does it come from, can you measure it, and how malleable is it (e.g., can parental behavior change a child’s intelligence significantly)? After all, if they were so smart, why were they having any trouble at all in school? As I learned the answers, I became aware that schools—the way they are set up—don’t meet the needs of many children very well, and this has been the case for a very long time. That partially explained why my own children were having problems. As I moved farther along in my learning, I saw that it wasn’t as clear whether girls were “suffering” from the way schools work. More boys get into trouble, hated school, and can’t wait to get out, while more girls love school, get good grades, and feel great about themselves during the school years.

Schools seem to fit most girls very well. The problem is that many of our brightest girls actually learn to underachieve—learn less than they could—and develop a number of self-image problems as they go through school. Briefly, classrooms at each grade level (usually kindergarten through grade 8) are set up to include equal numbers of boys and girls, children from different economic and ethnic backgrounds, and advanced and the struggling learners. The brightest kids get spread out. David Lohman from the University of Iowa, co-author of both the Cognitive Abilities Test and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, notes that by first grade the typical same-aged mixed-ability classroom already has 12 grade equivalencies of achievement in it! What does this mean for a smart girl? She gets to be one of the smartest, best students until she takes ability-grouped classes in high school. Little intellectual competition for eight years can mislead her about her abilities relative to true peers, those with whom she will compete in high school, college, and career. To further add to her difficulties, the way the smartest children are spread out means that she often doesn’t find another girl who is enough like her to become her soul-mate friend. She doesn’t get used to facing challenging material or practice study skills (she doesn’t need them), and she may fill all of her saved time with “running the school.” At the time, she may feel quite good about that. But, too many of these smart girls end up thinking they are what they do. And when things get more difficult in her advanced courses in high school and college, she starts to doubt she is very smart after all and is often overwhelmed by how much time it takes for studying and school work. She doesn’t want to let go of all her activities, those things that everyone admires in her, and she starts to burn the candle at both ends, and—regrettably—she may start to lower her educational and career expectations for herself.

The smart girl grows into a smart woman and becomes wife and mother. Having spent the majority of her childhood being a super efficient multi-tasker who can do anything, she now thinks she should be able to do everything perfectly in her mother role. The majority of the mothers who come to me as clients already have graduate degrees. Although a significant number still work outside the home, a substantial number no longer do because their children’s needs require so much of her time and attention. For professionally trained mothers, this puts self-inflicted pressure on them—if they’ve given up their careers for awhile—to be the best darned mothers they can be!

Are you starting to see how all this fits together? Women who are capable of earning a college degree often learn from their early school experiences to expect too much of themselves and it leaves them with self-doubt. The irony is that intelligent women are more capable in general than they end up feeling about themselves. My children were leaving home as I finished my PhD and I still didn’t know how I’d use my degree. I ran into someone I’d known years ago who expressed disdain for my uncertainty, like, “So, why did you get a PhD if you didn’t know what you were going to do with it?” Of course, it made me feel defensive and not very smart. It didn’t yet occur to me that I could use all I’d learned about intelligence for an actual job or career.

On life’s journey, intelligent women learn that they must be flexible and adaptable so that they will recognize when their true purpose and passion shows up. All your earlier hard work and training feeds into who you are now. None is wasted even if you’ve changed careers or stayed home raising your family. Your next opportunity is still around the corner. The intelligent woman will be open to the possibilities that unfold before her on her own journey.

Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D., Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a specialist in assessment and individualized interpretations and guidance for gifted children and adults. Parent of three gifted adults, Ruf has taught, supervised, and administered in elementary through graduate school education. She is the author of articles and papers on school issues and the social-emotional adjustment of gifted children, particularly children at the highest levels of giftedness, as well as the High Ability Assessment Bulletin for the Stanford-Binet, Fifth Edition (2003, Riverside Publishing) and the award winning book Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind (2005, Great Potential Press). Dr. Ruf is American Mensa’s Gifted Children Program Coordinator, winner of the Mensa Foundation’s Intellectual Benefits Award. A national level conference presenter, researcher on Levels of Giftedness and how intellectual profile affects adjustment, Dr. Ruf also consults with adult groups on the social and emotional intelligence of their members. For more information see

Amanda Ripley's "The Smartest Kids in the World and how they got that way" - what do I think of it?

I recently read Amanda Ripley's "The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way" and was glad someone did this work. Yes, I knew that advocates for gifted children or advocates for teachers' unions would get their hackles up over many of the points that Ripley made. They might say that clearly she doesn't "understand" the needs of gifted children, blah-blah-blah. Clearly she doesn't understand how "unfair" it would be to keep "normal" people (i.e., those who weren't the best students themselves) out of teaching with her observation that schools must have the smartest and best trained teachers from the population if their students are to do well, become smart (i.e., live and learn up to their potential).

Ripley’s book is about high schools in the United States, Finland, South Korea, and Poland.

But, what Ripley wrote resonated with me, as I know it actually will with many who do understand the needs of the gifted, whom I will specifically discuss at the end of this. Here are a few reasons:

• Ripley advocates changing university teacher training programs from one of the lowest thresholds for admittance to a threshold no lower than the top third of their high school graduating classes.
• She advocates continuing supervision, mentoring and education for the teachers once they are hired to teach.
• She advocates letting the teachers decide how to teach, what to use to support those lessons, and how to decide if their students are learning what they’ve been taught. Remember, the teacher continues to be part of a team system that offers support, input, feedback and encouragement to him or her.
• She points out that the smartest kids in the world know how to use what they have learned. They know how to apply it and interpret when to apply a concept, thought, idea or skill. Real life. Thinking skills. Reasons why we just learned something.

I used to teach elementary school. I joke that I was among the last of the generations of women who thought their only career options were nurse or teacher. I chose teacher because, in my experience at that time, I knew I’d be on my own, make my own decisions, and not be bossed around by say, a doctor (the way nurses were). Remember, I grew up during a time when girls were supposed to understand that the constant use of the male pronouns was understood to mean both male and female. Well, we didn’t actually understand that, but I digress.

So, two things have changed mightily since that time. First, smart women have tons of career options, so far fewer of them choose teaching. (Keep in mind that the low pay has been unappealing to men for a long time, and as most men always had the option of any career they wanted, few ever aspired to become teachers compared to women). Second, today’s teachers are micro-managed, told exactly what to teach and how to assess for whether or not their students learned. I assume there have continued to be good teachers who worked around the system, and I applaud them, of course.

So, what about gifted children and their needs?

When their teachers are smart, creative, and allowed to make decisions based upon the needs of the students in their classes, all students truly do benefit. Ripley is opposed to ability grouping. In many ways, so am I. Almost any topic or concept can be taught at many levels. It’s how you individualize the same topic. It’s how you enable students to work together, choose with whom to work on certain topics – and on different days! It’s the deep understanding, mastery and love of the topics that a smart, well-trained teacher brings to the students. It’s the nerve, creativity, and the “why can’t we do this?” attitude that smart, well-trained teachers bring to their schools when they are empowered to do what needs to be done.

Most people focus on the quality of our high schools and I personally think that it’s the elementary and middle school levels that need the most change. Just putting it out there.

So, yes. I liked the book, I liked the investigation into this topic that Ripley did when preparing for the book, and I recommend it.

Is Your Grandchild Maybe Gifted? How Can You Tell?

Many grandparents start to wonder if their grandchildren are unusually smart and if there's any way they can support the parents' nurture and handling of the blossoming child. It's likely that if both parents are pretty darned smart, their children will be, too. There is a strong genetic influence, after all! But, sitting down and doing school work before you start school, doesn't necessarily point to a future genius. But, figuring out what kinds of schooling and talent support a young child needs can go a long way toward facilitating the child's growth into all he or she can be. And grandparents can play a significant role in enabling that to happen.

First, any "signs" of intelligence must be viewed only as possible indicators that the child is unusually intelligent. They are not PROOF. Some children are highly intelligent and show fewer of these signs while they are still young. Some kids show many of these signs while young and are bright, but not unusually bright in every area. Being intellectually gifted doesn't necessarily mean or guarantee all kinds of achievement, high grades, success in school, or high paying jobs.

Here are some common signs or early indicators that you can look for and consider:

Alertness: Probably the leading indicator of giftedness in infants, toddlers and preschool aged children is their alertness. It is hard to assess or describe. Gifted children tend to stare intently at what people are saying or doing, they seem to be wise beyond their years even before they speak. They almost always understand what adults are talking about long before they actually start speaking themselves. This alertness leads to them soaking up everything around them whether you are directly trying to teach them or not.

Language development/high interest in language: This early development and ability generally indicates verbal giftedness, but since it is generally associated, as well, with the brain development of little girls being ahead of and different from little boys in the verbal domain, sometimes girls will be perceived as brighter than equally bright boys in the early years. The frequently more precocious verbal development of girls can confuse many adults about "how gifted" a girl is while leading to underestimates of "how gifted" a young boy is. When a little boy is very verbally advanced, though, it is a more reliable sign that he will ultimately prove to be intellectually, verbally gifted. The content of the child's vocabulary, the words they correctly use, the way they string together words to form complex meaning and sentences, is more an indicator of intellectual giftedness than is simply early or a lot of talking.

Motor skills development: Gifted babies and toddlers are more purposeful in their motor activities, perhaps, but it is a physical skill that makes them dextrous or really good at it at an early age. When a child sits up or begins to walk unassisted is not really all that related to intellectual level. Purposeful means that they, as infants, don't just "bat" at something held before them, but stare and actually try to reach for and grasp it. They "play" with objects, investigate them, turn them over and over, and taste them. In my own experience, gifted infants and babies learn very early not to taste things or "mouth" things that adults tell them not to put in their mouths. Some gifted kids become perfectionistic early on and won't try their motor skills (for an audience) before they feel they are quite good at it. This is another reason why not to get hung up on the demonstrations of motor skills as an indicator of intellectual precocity!

Perception (they're particularly perceptive): Gifted babies and toddlers are often described as being like little sponges. They soak up everything around them. They also remember what they've seen or heard or smelled and bring it up or connect to it later -- in the right context -- much to the surprise of the adults around them. All of this perception tends to be related to their particular talent areas, too, what they will eventually prove to have an enduring ability or interest in. This is all related to "engagement." Gifted kids are paying attention. (This rarely transfers to their school behavior, however, because for gifted kids, there is often very little to learn in the same-aged classroom with material and other kids who are simply "doing" and "being" something very different.)

Memory (a good memory): Fantastic memories for what falls within their interest and ability domains. They remember what you said and how you said it. They soak up what is read to them. They notice the routes you take and how to get places. They start "reading" store and street signs because they've put what they've already learned by paying attention and remembering into action. Gifted children's brains are ready to soak up material in their environment while they are younger than other children. This is why they are so advanced of others when they start school. This is why school is frustrating and boring unless the school is set up for children like them.

Good problem solving: Usually good at this, but it depends on the topic, especially for boys. Boys tend to be specialists and more single-minded than girls. This ability is why parents and teachers need to also be smart and stay one step ahead of gifted youngsters so as not to be outsmarted by them too often. You need to be prepared to be surprised. A child who quickly figures out how to put something together or make something work is showing dexterity, and often spatial reasoning, cause and effect reasoning, effective use of trial and error, and memory for what's worked before skills. A child who picks up vocabulary and tries it out on a regular basis is also showing problem-solving skills. This shows in the discussions and arguments about why they think they should be allowed to do this or that when they want to, for example.

All of these signs can occur earlier in exceptionally and profoundly gifted kids. Let me just say this, the more highly intelligent an infant is, the less likely you can leave him or her in a bouncy seat without interacting with him or her and expect him or her to be happy. Very bright infants demand attention and interaction, some call it stimulation but that's not a clear enough term in my opinion. If caregivers take the child on a walk and talk to adults or on their phone instead of interacting with their infant, they're making a huge mistake! The child isn't happy; the child is insulted; the child feels unimportant, and you're missing the chance to lead the child forward into the big, wonderful world of learning and engaging with others.

For more specifics about all of this, please read the article "How Smart Is My Child? Using the Ruf Estimates™ of Levels of Gifted", the first article under the Resources tab.

Be proactive for your child

By 1st grade, the typical same-aged mixed-ability public school classroom already has 12 grade equivalencies of achievement in it!

Where does YOUR child fit that picture?

How might "waiting to learn" affect your child's achievement, motivation, behavior, and self-concept?

Find out today!

Gifted Children Online Assessment Tool Now Available

Parents gain the confidence to be strong advocates for their child's educational and emotional needs.

TalentIgniter announces the availability of their new online assessment tool, the Ruf Estimates™ Kids IQ Test. For the first time, parents who want to make sure they’re choosing the best, most appropriate school environment for their children can, in the privacy of their own home, affordably discover this information while their children are still eager for the school experience.

“At TalentIgniter, our primary goal is educating parents of young children so they can make the best educational choices for their children from the very start. Parents gain the confidence to be strong advocates for their child’s educational and emotional needs,” says founder, Deborah Ruf, Ph.D. “Ascertaining the right educational fit ultimately ignites a child’s genius and creativity.”

What is the Ruf Estimates™ Kids IQ Test?

  1. It is an online survey, filled out by parents, based on early behavioral milestones and interests.
  2. It provides an estimate of the child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses, a specific estimate of the child’s IQ range and what this means, and detailed feedback and additional resources for this particular child.
  3. Feedback results are divided into 13 different estimated IQ and academic ability ranges that progress from [this child is] Average for his or her age group through bright, moderately gifted and the highest Levels that are described by Ruf’s 5 Levels of Gifted article.
  4. It is appropriate for any child six years and older whose parents have kept good records or have good memories for their child’s early milestones. In the case of children who are clearly exceptionally intellectually advanced, parents can complete the survey for a child as young as age three.

For further information on the details of the assessment tool and the research behind the Ruf Estimates™ please visit our FAQs page.

Customer Testimonial

We strongly believe that Dr. Ruf has given parents the key to the proverbial gifted door with Ruf Estimates™ of Levels of Gifted Assessment. This assessment is the perfect launching point for all parents who suspect that their child might be gifted. Not only does it clearly define an intellectual range compared to age peers, it provides the essential information for what to actually do with a child in that range. The tailored information, guidance and recommendations given are fundamental to making informed parenting and educational decisions for the gifted child.

-Kristin & Ryan Parker

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