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Developmentally Above Average Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: I suspect our 18 month old has shown signs of giftedness...at the very least he is precocious. If he is gifted, I want to be able to support and encourage him as best as possible to ensure he continues developing with his potential.

My first question- would these accomplishments be considered gifted or merely precocious? I've found very little measurement tools...mostly just characteristics. If he his gifted, are there resources available for parents who are not as developmentally inclined but want what is best for their brainy babe? :)

Here are some examples of his feats.

  • He said "Momma" at 9 weeks old (after several distinct attempts)

  • Had enough control of his body to kick his legs in the water at less than two months old to create splashes

  • He had six words, including "kitty" by 6 month old

  • He said "go away!" when frustrated at 10 months old

  • He has shockingly effective problem solving skills (pulling the blanket he was laying on for tummy time towards him to get the toy at the other end at 4 months old, outsmarting our child safety locks on our kitchen cabinets at 11 months old)

  • Demonstrated concern and care at 9 months old by diving over to and hugging parent when coughing

  • Follows basic instructions around 11 months

  • Mastered most colors by 13-14 months

  • Mastered animals and their sounds by 14 months

  • Counting to three at 14 months, five by 15 months

  • Demonstrated understanding that numbers are quantities/counting two and three objects at 15 months

  • Knows countless (possibly hundreds) of words by 15 months

  • Makes two and three word sentences regularly by 13 months (several prior to that)

  • Helps clean up toys (and sings "clean-up clean-up!")

  • Requests what he wants/needs verbally (most of the time) at 16-17 months (foods, up/down/open)- some as early as 14 months

  • Uses please, thank you and excuse me 17-18 months old

  • Mastered greetings and goodbyes in Spanish at 15 months

  • Mastered counting to three in Spanish at 17 months

  • Fully recites alphabet at 17 months

  • Walks on tip toes at 17 months

My other question has to do with his sensitivity/emotion regulation. He becomes extremely frustrated if there is a task he cannot do by himself...for instance, he wants to be able to turn the door knob by himself but he cannot reach. He screams in anger and cries out in frustration. I show him empathy and offer to help, but it only seems to make him more upset. I know he desperately just wants to be independent, but he still has lots of growing to do. How can I support and encourage him when all he wants is to do it correctly and independently the first time?

Thank you for your time!

A: Before moving further, I'd like you to know that at an early stage, we try not to label a child. There aren't many tools at this stage to determine advanced abilities apart from observation by parents or a professional and checklists. No doubt, parents are usually the best people to gauge if their child may be gifted but usually an IQ test when the child is a lot older (6-7 years onwards is preferred for more stability in scores) would confirm it. Regardless of whether he may be gifted or not, you should always provide him with challenging learning. From your description, your son does show some distinct characteristics of children who are developing at a faster pace. There is no doubt that above average children tend to gain skills faster and sometimes with more ease than the average child with normal development. And quite naturally, the advanced development can and does show up in early life, making acquisition of other skills and abilities also at a faster pace.

Today, it is much harder to determine giftedness since many children are exposed to various activities by parents; these activities actually make them learn faster regardless of ability. All children are like sponges and absorb learning quite rapidly, and enthusiastic parents certainly help in their development. For example, a gifted toddler may learn to read at three, and so will a bright toddler. The earlier one reads, the faster learning will take place. However, a gifted child would need much more stimulation and any learning activity needs to match their intellectual capabilities. If s/he does not receive the much needed stimulation, the child would lose interest in learning and may become disillusioned and probably disruptive. On the other hand, a bright child would does well in most learning environments and would usually be toppers. They adapt to learning quite easily and are viewed as “good, obedient children”. Naturally, a bright child is easier to nurture compared to a gifted child.

A good start in nurturing his potential would be to encourage him to follow him interests at this point. In case you find that he is fascinated with something, do more of it and gradually increase its complexity. Having said that, more work of the same kind may sometimes bore above average children, so it is always important to try to have variations of the same activity. This involves creativity on your side. You must also know when to stop - a good cue is to observe when he starts to lose interest (irritable, distracted). If this happens, drop the activity and allow him some free playtime (with minimal guidance as long as it is safe).. Pretend play is crucial and this is when they develop their brain and unleash their creativity.

He appears to have a perfectionist nature as well which affects his sensitivities. It would be good for him to learn and accept that he may not be able to do it right every time. Perhaps you could crawl and try to turn the knob and pretend to fail. He needs to learn that it is perfectly fine for that to happen and even adults can fail. Do not do it for him – it will frustrate him further. Instead, show him a few solutions (that fails) and finally help him identify what works. This is applicable in anything he does. It would help him learn to control his emotions seeing others cant do it as well. You would need to show him how to model “appropriate” behaviours.

Ensure that he remains challenged all the time so as not to have any time to be idle which may cause irritation due to lack of stimulation and subsequent manifestation in disruptive behaviour. The following are a few tips that I have proposed on this site - some that you can use at this stage and some at a later stage to encourage his learning: For instance, help him determine differences; compare and contrast things/people:
• For early exposure to math, you can use measurement words often: little, more, many, half, quarter, etc.
• Not sure if he is showing much interest in books (you did not indicate), but you may want to introduce him to the world of books at this stage itself.
• You can also watch educational programs with him and ask him the “whys” and “whats” - and then explain.
• Look for similarities and differences and have him group things that belong.
• Talk to him, tell him stories, create a scenario and ask him about what could happen in certain situations.

Encourage language learning at this stage. He will pick it up very fast. After some time, you may also want to look out for play schools, which may be a great environment for him to also develop his initial social skills. For a better indication of his developmental milestone, please refer to the guide in the table of 'Developmental Milestones of a Gifted Toddler'. The milestones have been gathered over many years of research on giftedness. However, please note that these figures are just guidelines and research could be dated by now. There are other factors that may influence development such as general health, specific sensory disabilities, motivation, etc.

Hope the tips are helpful and have a great learning journey with your little one. For now, do not worry if he is gifted or precocious or bright – just enjoy him. Keep monitoring his progress and encourage him to learn positively. Wishing you all the best!.


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