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Nurturing Remarkable Abilities

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I live in March in Cambridgeshire and for some time now i have been contemplating contacting someone with regards to the remarkable behaviour that my 2 year old son seems to be exhibiting. He has a fascination with numbers and everything numerical and for several months now has been able to do some remarkable things. He has a till (very much like a calculator) which he loves to sit at, inputing numbers and being told which number to put in. You may not think this amazing until you hear that the numbers we are talking about can be anything from zero to 50,000 !!! I can ask him to put in say 36 thousand 365 (said as a whole number), and in it goes. I have the earlier stages of this recorded on video.

He can also count by inputing each number simultaneously and then pressing clear (and in the correct order) to well over 100. (In fact probably a lot further but it becomes a little monotonous watching it!) He has learnt all of the letters of the alphabet and knows them not as taught phonetically to children, but as we as adults say them. He knows most colours and can also count backwards from 10 to 0. He has learnt how to operate (not just play with) the DVD player and seems to have memorised a lot of the content on some of his DVD's.

He also has an old mobile phone that he plays with and knows how to access the media player and laughs when he is about to play you the song 'Grace Kelly'! He just seems to be able to learn things so quickly and has exhibited these signs for at least 6 months. The amazing thing is, that he turned 2 last Monday. He can occupy himself for up to an hour sometimes just with something new. especially if it involves numbers. We told a lot of friends with children about all of this, but i don't think they really truly understood the full extent of it until last weekend when they came to his birthday party and saw it for themselves. In fact one of them (a primary school teacher) said that 95% of her 6 yr olds couldn't do the things that he is doing. They all seemed to think that i should speak to someone about it and after discussing it with my partner, we agree that maybe we should.

The thing that is on my mind, is that although he was starting to talk and say words, it seems that now, he has stopped and sort of refuses to say anything that you ask him to. I know that as a child there is still plenty of time for him to start talking, but what i don't want to happen is that his mind becomes so intent on numbers or anything else that it prevents him from expressing himself or learning other things that maybe don't interest him because it's not what he already knows. One last thing (and we find this quite amusing!) is that with his plastic magnetic numbers on the coffee table, he can put together a number that you ask him (such as 73) and when it comes to asking him what the next number is he promptly finds the next number, in this case a 4 and adds it to the end. (making 734). when you then look at him questioningly and say '734' ? he looks down, slides the middle number away, pushes the 2 remaining numbers together and then makes a noise as if to say 'no stupid it's 74'. We laugh and say that he must be mocking us!

My son's name is Harley and as you can tell we are very proud parents but none of this has ever been pushed onto him, and it has always been off of his own back. All we are looking for, is advice on what options may be available to us. If you could help in any way or pass this to anybody that can, then we would be very grateful. Thanks.

A: Harley's abilities are really remarkable and he has reached milestones way ahead of his age group. Doing what he has been doing at two is not at all common. It may be quite difficult to advice well here as he may need to be observed by a professional and advise you accordingly since your son appears to have exceptional abilities. Somehow, I will try to give you some information based on my experience.

Studies have indicated that exceptionally gifted children have, among other qualities, a tendency to elaborate the simple, to think precisely, to simplify the complex, to remember with unusual clarity and to reason abstractly at an early age. You may want to observe these skills. As he grows, do also take note of his uneven development; while you may find that his cognitive skills can be highly developed, his emotional maturity and behavioural control can be varied. Because of this, as parents, you may need to follow the complexity of his thoughts, validate his experiences, and help him deal with emotions.

At his age (two and half by now) what you may want to do is to follow his lead and meet his needs as they arise. For instance, if he prefers and plays appropriately with toys or activities designed for older children, e.g., 6-year-old, he should be given those toys and activities. If he had already mastered the alphabets, he may be given simple books and gradually more complex ones. In terms of his verbal ability, if you find that he uses very sophisticated vocabulary, he should be spoken to in similar ways to cater for his advanced developmental needs. Apart from that, as he is very young and it may be hard to tell what his interests really are, it would be a good idea to introduce him to a host of activities - art and craft, sciences, music, library and museum visits, etc. You will find here that there will be subjects he may be interested in and some that he would show less interest in. This is perfectly fine. If you find him getting bored with some of the activities, ití»s perfectly fine. Exposure is very important for gifted children, so as long as you have exposed him to a variety of materials, you are on the right track. Gradually you will find out his interest and these would need some attention. For e.g., if you find that he is interested in animals/insects, get him books on those. For variety, you may even go to the zoo or rent DVDs on animals. This would help him further explore his interests and not get bored.

You will also need to give him more challenging activities in a variety of forms. Bear in mind that too much coaching may not be very helpful. Be a facilitator and guide him but give him a lot of free play time. They need time to explore on their own. Do also note that highly gifted children usually have at least one parent who is gifted as well. So, try to recall what you or your spouse went through when you were very young and what could have helped you further. Having said that, be prepared to work very hard to give the best to this exceptional child.

A good contact in England may be Professor Freeman's consultancy for advice on how to nurture him to further develop his abilities. An interesting site for more information on highly gifted children can be found in the following website.

Here's wishing you the very best and I am sure Harley would greatly benefit from your parenting.


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