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Masters in Educational Practice: Child and adolescent development 0-19


Typical and atypical development


Deviations in development – both sides of the distribution curve, i.e. more able and talented children and children with an intellectual disability

Gifted and talented children

Other terms used include ‘able and talented’. These children deviate from the majority of their peers. Defining the term ‘gifted’ is no easy task. Numerous definitions have been suggested, but no single definition of giftedness is accepted by everyone or even by a majority of people. The term ‘gifted children’ was first used in 1869 by Francis Galton. He referred to adults who demonstrated exceptional talent in some area as gifted, for example, a gifted chemist. Children could inherit the potential to become a gifted adult, and Galton referred to these children as gifted children. Lewis Terman expanded Galton's view of gifted children to include high IQ. In the early 1900s, he began his a long-term study of gifted children, whom he defined as children with IQs of 140 or more. His study found that IQ alone could not predict success in adulthood. Leta Hollingworth, too, believed that the potential to be gifted was inherited. However, she felt that providing a nurturing home and school environment were also important in the development of that potential. See Figure 2 below.

Figure 2:

Children can be of higher potential or achieving ability as a ‘good all-rounder’ or in one specific subject (academic/non-academic) or skill, e.g. art, music, sport. Identification can occur via a number of sources, e.g. family, education system, health professionals.  

For more information on how best to support a learner in your class who is gifted please visit The National Association for Gifted Children website (external link). The Department for Education website (external link) also has an up-to-date view of the current policies regarding gifted and talented children in the education system.

Please refer to ‘1.6 Additional materials’ section for further reading in this area.

Intellectual disability

These children also deviate from the majority of their peers but sit at the other side of the distribution curve. See Figure 3 below.

Figure 3:

The term 'learning disabilities' was adopted by the UK Government in 1991. It replaced previous terms used in the UK that now seem very pejorative such as ‘mental handicap’ or ‘mental deficiency’, and is an alternative to terms such as ‘mental retardation’ used in other countries.

The term ‘intellectual disabilities’ is increasingly used in international dialogue as the term ‘learning disabilities’ is used in some other countries to refer to other conditions such as dyslexia where there is no necessary link with an intellectual disability.


  • Is screening undertaken when learners enter your school?
  • What information is transferred from a previous school to ascertain their developmental stage, e.g. reading age?
  • How is this information used to inform teaching practices?

It is important to consider the school’s procedures if you think a learner in your class has a learning disability. It may require using different methods of teaching or a different curriculum for the learner or the possibility of receiving support and knowledge on how best to develop the learner from an external agency.


  • Consider whether screening all learners for developmental delay is a good thing?
  • What are the benefits and downsides of doing so?
  • What would be the challenges for your school in implementing this?
  • What tools might you use to do this?


Consider how you can differentiate your teaching by:

  • tasks, e.g. use an able learner to give a recap on the key elements of the lesson; paired learning
  • resources, e.g. use abridged (and pictorial versions) and full length versions of the same text
  • outcome, e.g. options for completion – must do, should do, could do
  • support, e.g. consider groupings; use older learners to support younger ones.

Learning pack contents

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