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Thoughts on the Standard Gifted Characteristics Checklist of Above Average Children

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: I've been reading about gifted children because I think my daughter shows some characteristics. I want to be sure I am challenging her without overwhelming her. Thing is, though she matches most of the "things to look for," so do most of her similar age friends. It seems the standards/averages seem way low. We know too many children who all fit the gifted or at least talented "criteria" OR are way advanced compared to the "average" children of their age.

For instance, my daughter and many of her friends are about 27 months old. They all have a sense of humor (they joke and tease each other and adults), can follow complex directions (get down off the couch, turn off the TV, take the book to your room and get your coat, we're leaving before the age of 2), know at least ten colors including light and dark versions, can count at least to five if not ten and beyond, recognize words, the beginning and end of books, can tell a story by looking at pictures, are calmed by simply reasoning with them verbally, identify most of the alphabet, some sing whole songs while others can fill in the missing words when sung to them.

Additionally, most of them have been playing pretend and can act out actions/events way before 2. (My daughter has been having her dolls talk to each other before she could talk well. She'd babble back and forth changing the pitch and tone of her voice) my daughter even got grossed out when I was cleaning a whole chicken (which I rarely do) because she seemed to realize it resembled an animal that she only knows as a living breathing thing, and we were chopping it up to eat it. She didn't want to eat chicken off the bone like that. That happened when she was about 18 months old.

Back to the group- they all walked and talked early, used proper grammar- no "me do" or "Brandon do" they say "I do it/ I did it" or "you do it/ you did it". My daughter has always used pronouns and knew some basic sign language at six months (we taught her "more" and "eat" and "drink" when we began to feed her solids at 5 1/2 months). Oh, and most of the kids are still using their right and their left hands. They seem to use whichever is the most efficient for the task. Also, she and her friends can watch full length animated movies and tell ahead of time what will happen next. Specifically their ages are in months, 27, 21, 21, 26, 28, 26, and 17 (the last being the least developed but doing exceedingly well). Only the 27 and 17 month old are blood related.

Do I think my daughter and her friends are little Einsteins? No, I don't. Not that I don't think she's smart, but I don't think she'll be graduating from college at 12. I really think that the children I know have been given enriching, educational, and challenging environments. So are they talented, or just been given the opportunity to excel or both? My thought is that the professionals who have come up with the "standard" or "average" toddler have seriously underestimated what a child can do when given the opportunity to learn. Any thought?

A: I do agree that for some parents, the standard checklist for gifted children appear to indicate that they have almost all, if not all the distinct characteristics. However, the standards are not at all way too low. The characteristics are very general and applies to the average "above average" child and not to the exception. It may be need to be revised as children these days are more exposed to the available stimulants that enhance their ability. But the numbers are really small, and the comparison is done based on many factors to fit in more of the population.

In addition, the awareness amongst parents today on potential abilities and how best to develop these abilities further has been greater than even a decade ago. This has led parents to provide the necessary environment for development of their children, and chances are, the earlier they start, the sooner they see advancement which translates into higher abilities. Pre-school curriculum planners are in a better position to plan out activities that may be very helpful and interesting for these children due to availability of information and the countless research that has been done in this area. Educational toy-makers are also able to come up with better educational toys, all which enhances ability and performance.

Children are like sponges, gifted or not. The younger they are, the easier they absorb information and with the combination of enhancement efforts from all sides, no doubt they would do well, and that is what required of any child. In your case, perhaps the group you mingle with may be financially and educationally advantageous and aware of what helps children learn better, hence, naturally, making that extra effort. Sometimes, the environment alone can be so conducive for learning that very little effort may be required from parents. Children will usually please their parents in order to seek approval as they grow older but it may come to a point when the child may get bored or unchallenged and may burn out; which is why continuous guidance from all parties, especially parents is very necessary to allow that star to keep shining.

Realizing that your child may be gifted based on checklists is not for parents to expect them to turn into "little Einsteins". This is merely an indication that some effort can be put in so that they are kept challenged as children with high potential tend to burn out easily if not given the appropriate challenge and find their learning uninteresting and lack meaning.

Professionals have not underestimated what a child can do, in fact, standard checklists help parents identify and recognize that their child may be capable of more. These checklist are definitely not absolute and parents are supposed to use them as guides to understand some distinct characteristics of advanced learners.

I believe that every child has a gift that parents need to develop further. With proper enriching, educational, and challenging environments, they should do better. They may be naturally talented (genes contribution) or provided the opportunity to excel, and as long as they are continuously given the challenges that makes learning interesting for them, chances are that they may be above average. The highly able child will eventually show her/his gifts which has a marked difference with her/his age peers. 


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