Common Difficulties2020-04-20T18:48:45+01:00

Common Difficulties Experienced
by Children with High Learning Potential

The difference between HLP children’s intellectual abilities and their age leads to some difficulties that are commonly experienced. Covered in this section are:


Children with high learning potential have unique characteristics outlined above that are not widely known. This causes misunderstanding in adults and children alike. Even when there is an element of understanding, certain actions or behaviours of HLP children can be misunderstood, leading to feelings of frustration and a lack of belonging

Find out more about supporting high learning potential children with our advice sheet PA103 Needs of Children with High Learning Potential

Intense Emotions

Children with high learning potential often suffer from intense emotions which cause them to overreact and behave in a way that is odd at times. Intense emotions combined with advanced understanding and perception can result in extreme anxiety in children with HLP. Similarly, these factors also contribute to concerns about world issues, feelings of unfairness and, sometimes, depression.

Many children with high learning potential have emotional development that is beyond their years (as referred to in Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration in the section on Hypersensitivity below). However, they also have intense emotions and a lack of experience in dealing with these feeling. This affects their emotional regulation and can look like emotional immaturity.

Advanced moral development means that HLP children see themselves as equal to any other individual and they will often demand or respond much more positively to respectful treatment. Where this is not present they may have difficulty accepting authority from someone just because they are older than them.

Find out more about the topic with our advice PA601 Social and Emotional Development of Children with High Learning Potential

Find out more about dealing with emotional problems with our advice sheet PA608 Helping High Learning Potential Children Deal with Emotional Problems

Sensory Sensitivity

Sensitivity to various kinds of sensory stimuli is common among high learning potential children. As many as one-third of HLP children may exhibit sensory processing disorder features, significantly affecting quality of life. Some high learning potential children have sensory processing disorder and some also have dyspraxia.

Sensory sensitivity can cause problems with processing sensory information, meaning that HLP children struggle to function in some environments, for example where there are loud noises or lots of people. This has an effect on their participation in everyday activities, and can also affect their eating and clothing habits.

Find out more about sensory issues with our fact sheet F05 Sensory Processing Disorder and High Learning Potential

Social Interaction

Many children with high learning potential find it hard to develop friendships with their peers. This is often because their cognitive abilities being advanced for their ages means they are functioning at a different social level to children their own age. This is most pronounced as preschoolers but continues throughout childhood. Being in the top 2-5% of the population means there is not likely to be another peer functioning at the same level in their class, or even their school. This is why children with high learning potential often gravitate towards playing with older children. In addition, having advanced reasoning ability means that children with high learning potential do not progress through the social development stages in the same way as other children their age and may find it hard to understand the behaviour of other children and the testing of boundaries that is sometimes unfair.

Because children with high learning potential have these social difficulties and seem odd for other reasons discussed, they are prone to bullying from other children. Because they are sensitive, their reactions to taunts can be extremely intense and felt deeply.

Difficulties with social relationships, bullying and being misunderstood all contribute to a sense of isolation.

Find out more with our advice sheet PA603 Friendships and High Learning Potential Children

Being Me booklet published in collaboration with Kidscape on supporting children with high potential learners to flourish.


Many children with high learning potential suffer with negative aspects of perfectionism. Perfectionism in HLP children is caused by their advanced perception; they understand what carrying out a task as well as an adult or as well as expected looks like. Their perfectionism is compounded by them almost always being able to fulfil that expectation as a young child and not experiencing falling short of expectation very often. Negative experiences of perfectionism arise when physical barriers get in the way of them achieving their expectation, when they try but fail or when they perceive how difficult a task will be and decide not to even try.

Some HLP children, partly because of perfectionism and partly due to their intense emotions, suffer with extreme self-criticism and are never able to live up the extreme standards they set themselves.

Find out more with our advice sheet PA604 Perfectionism and High Learning Potential Children

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. Young people and adults with high learning potential are well-known to suffer with this phenomenon.

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