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Potentially Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My son is turning two in a couple weeks. He knows every color already....black, purple, pink, etc....and can identify the colors correctly. He knows every farm animal, and can mimic the noises of those.

Also, almost out of the blue, we discovered that he can count (up to ten), and counts objects correctly. He can say pretty much anything, so his vocabulary is rather large I would say. When watching his favorite TV shows, he answers questions appropriately. It surprises me because sometimes there are things my son knows that I have no idea how he could!! (For example, he correctly identified the engine of a plane on TV even though I never taught him that..). He is our first child, so we really have nothing to compare him to. Is he at a normal rate of development or is there a possibility that he is gifted? Any suggestions to help him advance even further? 

A: It does appear that your son's development is rather advanced, however, the information is given is rather limited and it is hard to determine without going through a developmental checklist.

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, 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.

For a 24 month old child, the average development would see the child being able to feed oneself with a spoon, drink from a straw, recognize parts of the face and points them out when asked, take things apart, ability to build tower (with about three to four building blocks), disassemble toys, ability to open/close and explore drawers/cabinets, pretend play, walk on stairs with help, follow directions and instructions, has a vocabulary of several hundred words, use of two to three word sentences, enjoys looking at same books many times, refers to self by name, etc. A gifted child would show about 30% advanced development of some skills and abilities by weeks, months or even years.

An interesting research on developmental milestones of gifted children is presented in the following tables. It is a fact that gifted children tend to gain skills faster and sometimes with more ease than the average child with normal development. Naturally, the advanced development can and does show up in early life, making acquisition of other skills and abilities also at a faster pace. The following milestones have been gathered over many years of research on giftedness.

Please note that these figures are just guidelines. There are other factors that may influence development such as general health, specific sensory disabilities, motivation, etc.

General Motor Examples

Ability

Normal Age (months)

Gifted Age (30% Advanced)

Sits up alone

 7 months

4.9 months

stands alone well

11

7.7

Crawls upstairs

15

10.5

Walks upstairs

18

12.6

Turns pages of a book

18

21

Walks on tiptoes

30

33.6

Skips with one foot only

48

33.6

Throws ball

48

33.6

Skips with alternating feet

60

42

Fine Motor Examples

Ability

Normal Age (months)

Gifted Age (30% Advanced)

Plays with rattle

 3 months

2.1 months

Pulls strings adaptively

7

4.9

Holds Object (Finger+Thumb)

9

6.3

Holds crayon adaptively

11

7.7

Scribbles Spontaneously

13

9.1

Folds paper

21

14.7

Draws a person with 2 parts

48

33.6

Copies a triangle

60

42

Draws a person with neck, hands and clothes

72

50.4

Cognitive-Language Examples

Ability

Normal Age (months)

Gifted Age (30% Advanced)

Social smile at people

 1.5 months

1.05 months

Searches with eyes for sound

2.2

1.54

Vocalizes 2 different sounds

2.3

1.61

Says 'Dada' (or equivalent)

7.9

5.53

Responds to name and 'no'

9

6.3

Looks at pictures in a book

10

7

Has vocabulary of 4-6 words

15

10.5

Follows directions to put object on chair etc.

17.8

12.46

3-word sentences

24

16.8

Gives full name

30

21

Counts object to 3

36

25.2

(Source: The Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre [GERRIC], The University of New South Wales, SYDNEY Australia).

A good start in nurturing his potential would be to encourage him to follow his 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 play time.

Ensure that he remains challenged all the time so as not to have any time to be idle (which may cause laziness in future). The following are a few tips that you can use at this stage and later to encourage his learning:

  • Help him determine differences; compare and contrast things/people.

  • Use measurement words often: little, more, many, half, quarter, etc. as an introduction to early math.

  • Instead of reading stories from books all the time, create your own and try to get him to contribute.

  • 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.

  • Create a scenario and ask him about what could happen in certain situations.

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.

Hope the tips are helpful and have a great learning journey with your son. Keep monitoring his progress and encourage him to learn positively. Best of luck!


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