Late Talker and Gifted
By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D
My son is 3 years 10 months old and severely speech delayed.
At present he will string together short commonly used
phrases and will repeat almost anything one prompts him to,
but is by no means conversational. He hit all of his milestones a couple of months later than most children not
walking until the end of 15 months. He also shows little
interest in drawing.
He has always had a very long attention span. He would sit
and watch TV shows like "Blues Clues" at 6 months old. At 1
yrs he would play with wood blocks for hours making
intricate structures for example: placing two arches
opposite each other and sliding a sphere in the middle. One
time I saw him make five of the exact same four block
structures, he began a sixth but could not find the half
sphere he was using as a 'roof top' and abandoned his play.
When he was two, I would do 24 piece puzzles with him, I
would do the outside border and he would fill in the middle.
(I never thought to let him try one on his own) He could
also complete a shape ball in a matter of minutes. On his
third birthday he received a transformer, he promptly spread
the instructions out on floor and studied them for a long
time with a knit brow. Two days later I came down stairs to
see he had transformed it from a jeep to a robot in a manner
He still always looks at instructions. He will run up to me
holding a book and point out a word, this started when he
was 2.9. His daycare tells me he plays computer games
designed for 5-7 years old with the ease of an adult. He can
be very social but will not participate in an activity if it
does not interest him, he tends to play alone. His social
skills are below average. He can become overly sensitive to
movies he watches. He watched "Two Brothers" and freaked
when the tiger was taken away from the boy, was also upset
when the two tigers were placed in a cage to fight each
other. After the movie ended he was still visibly upset.
Plot lines tend to upset him. He has also displayed an
We have had two speech therapists tell us he is not a
candidate for speech therapy. They see him as a late talker
for which we have a family history of on both sides.
Can my son be gifted even though is so behind in other
A: As a rough guide, at about 3
plus, your son should have a vocabulary of around 500 words
leading towards 1,200 words or more by age 4. Having said
that, preschoolers range widely in the number of words that
they use and this guide is just an average development of
most kids within the said age range.
From your description, there is a high possibility that your
son may be gifted and his delays in speech may just be
developmental. Although, early talkers have more access to
learning faster and hence may develop faster that the
average child, it is possible for the speech of highly
gifted children to be delayed. One study on giftedness had
indicated a case of two brothers who did not speak until 18
months and 21 months respectively. Their parents were warned
by their pediatricians that this might be indicative of
intellectual disability. Later tested, the brothers revealed
an IQ of 170 and 200!
In these cases, when speech does appear, it often arrives in
the form of phrases or short sentences, rather than words in
isolation which appears to be the case for your son.
Therefore, as it is important to note that unusually early
speech is indeed a rather powerful indicator of possible
giftedness, at the same time, delays in speech should not be
taken as an indicator that the child is not gifted or worse,
Also, from your description on his activities based on his
age, he definitely appears more advanced than the average
child. He appears to me to be a visual learner. These
learners may think in pictures and learn best from visual
displays. He also appears to have logical intelligence which
makes him mathematically inclined. Therefore, there is no
surprise that he enjoys solving problems, particularly if
they are math related. His favorite toys would likely be
building blocks, and pattern puzzles. This type of learner
learns best by categorizing, classifying, and working with
abstract patterns or relationships as s/he matures. Apart
from that, he also shows emotional intensity, a distinct
characteristic of gifted children.
If his speech delays continues and appears to develop very
slowly, you may want to see another therapist perhaps for a
third opinion. But, if he is getting better, there isnít
much to worry about. Just concentrate on his learning skills
and help his enjoy his learning journey.