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Developmentally Advanced Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: I have a two questions: whether my child is potentially gifted, and what activities I should be doing with him, that won't isolate him (and me) from our peers.

My baby is now nearly 15 months old, and has been very alert from birth. As he has grown I have regularly checked his development, only to find that he was sometimes meeting his milestones very early. I am aware that there is a lot of variation among babies and children with milestones, and although I am sure my son is bright, I am not convinced either way about giftedness. His doctor said that he was 'neurodevelopmentally advanced', whatever that means, but his development has not been predictable. From my experience with other people's children, most of his milestones seem average, with the exception of some early ones, so I can't really tell if he is just good at some things, or whether he is actually gifted. Some of his milestones are as follows, according to the chart posted elsewhere on this site:

Gross motor

  • He never really 'rolled'

  • Sat up alone at 4 months

  • Stood up and cruised around 7-8 months

  • Walked well alone by 10 months

  • Crawled up 10 stairs by 8-9 months, by which time we had to gate the stairs

  • Walked up stairs (one foot per stair) at 12 months

  • Walks backwards at 13 months

  • Walks on tiptoes at 14 months

  • Runs at 12 months

  • Dribbles (kicks) a ball very well at 12 months

  • Throws a ball well at 12 months (but has been throwing for a long time)

  • Turns in circles until he is dizzy at 12 months

  • Could do a high-five at 7 months, but didn't wave until 12 months

Fine motor

  • Played with a rattle toy frequently from 8 weeks

  • Had a pincer grip by 7 months

  • Turns pages of a book and 'reads' by himself at 12 months

  • Scribbled at 9-10 months, and enjoys scribbling now as he says 'draw'

  • Can use a shape sorter at 11 months

  • Pushes buttons and light switches from 8 months

  • Can feed himself with a spoon from 10 months, but still mostly eats with his hands (his left hand, though he draws with his right)

Cognitive-language

  • Has been babbling since 3 months or earlier

  • Said 'hello' at 3-4 months

  • Says or has said about 30 words (and some sounds, like 'woof' by 13 months

  • Says many two- and three-word combinations e.g. 'up stairs', 'what is it' by 13 months

  • Could differentiate between two toys when asked at 6 months

  • Understands and (mostly) complies with all instructions we give him by 12 months

  • Might sit down and cry when told not to do/touch something, but will not defy us

  • 'Sings' and dances to music at 8 months when cruising

  • Sorts/groups objects including food at 14 months

Additionally, he has always slept poorly, and despite showing extreme tired signs when he was very small, he was extremely difficult to settle. He would be very shaky at times, and people often wondered whether there was something 'wrong' with him. He has always had difficulty controlling his temperature and is very sensitive to heat.

My second question is, what activities should I be doing with him? I am very against hot-housing, but I don't want him to be bored and frustrated either, or end up with social problems because he is unhappy. I take him to a few baby classes, and he has always moved up to levels beyond his age group because of his physical ability, but this means there aren't many babies his age there. I often feel isolated, and actually get a bit of attitude from other mothers who are always asking me how old he is, and almost seem offended that he is able to kick a ball etc when they know how old he is. If he is gifted or bright, I wonder whether there are some groups or communities I could join where we might be able to avoid this sort of thing?

Thank you for your time.

A: From your description, it does appear that your son is as mentioned by your doctor, 'neurodevelopmentally advanced'. This refers to brain function that affects emotion, learning ability, self-control and memory and that unfolds as the individual grows. This term is more commonly used for those with disorders of the brain function. In short, your son is developing at a faster pace looking at his developmental milestone.

Most of the description you mentioned is physical so it is hard to determine signs of giftedness. Having said that, due to the advanced development he is able to move on to higher levels of play that requires quick learning, which is one of the distinct traits of giftedness. He may be potentially gifted but it is hard to tell at this stage without more all round description and observation.

Regardless, you should take notice of his interests and follow his leads. Whether a child is identified as gifted or average, the activities are pretty similar for children at this stage, just that the speed of performing activities may differ; hence the jump to more difficult activities would be faster (as in your son's case). The most important thing at this stage is to make sure that learning should be stimulating, varied, accelerated and above all, meaningful. You can involve him in any activity, with the following practical guidelines in understanding your child at the back of your mind.

For gifted children, they have two main needs; feeling comfortable with themselves and their differences with other children and developing their potential to the maximum. As parents, it is important to keep in mind that whatever activity they indulge in should not be forced upon and not necessarily intended for parents to make long term goals for children (e.g., pushing a child to master a game/sport/music to compete for fame). Whatever activity your child may indulge in, the long term goal should be to help enable the child to be a comfortable adult who is able to use her/his gifts productively.

Observe what he enjoys. For a 15 month old, before going to play school, you may want to stay attuned to his differences (compared to his age group) and meet his needs as you observe him. This would allow him to be different and treated as normal, especially as the gap becomes larger. For e.g., if at 2, he prefers to play with toys designed for a 4 year old, then let it be. If it appears that he enjoys reading, introduce books to him (you can start now as well), and ones of his choice. If you find that he has a large and sophisticated vocabulary, enhance it by using such vocabulary yourself.

To develop closeness, you can also constantly talk, read or sing to your child. Talk to him about daily events. Ask him about play school or any enrichment (if he starts one), perhaps repeating some activities he did or re-enacting scenes. Children love this kind of play, especially when adults join in. Read him stories in a way that encourages him to participate by answering questions, pointing to what he sees in a book or by repeating certain rhymes.

Do not forget to encourage exploration and play (provided it is safe). Children learn best through playing. For e.g., blocks, art and pretend play help children develop curiosity, problem-solving skills, language, and mathematics.

Make sure you keep in track of the progress he is making. This will enable you to gauge his performance. Above all, regardless of the activity, as a parent you need to be warm, caring and responsive as much as possible. It has been researched and found that children, regardless of gifted or average, with care giving such as touching, talking in a warm tone and smiling, get along better with other children and perform better in school than children who are less securely attached. At this stage, as it is too soon to determine giftedness, it is also too soon to worry about concerns associated with giftedness. In fact, being aware of your child's needs is more important than anything else. I suggest you enjoy your child and follow his leads in learning for now. Surf the Internet for associations and support group for gifted children in your area. All the best in your journey!


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