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Advanced Development

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My husband and I are concerned that our daughter may have specific developmental needs and we would like to provide the absolute best for her to thrive; we want to make sure that we are not holding her back. We didn't really start noticing that she may be different until a few months ago; we thought that she was just advanced and had incredible memorization skills as well as motor skills. She is not as advanced as some of these stories that I have read about online such as children knowing 60 different states and capitols, or being able to count to 1000 or reading complex words and books, or knowing multiplication but here are some of the things that our daughter is capable of :

  • She is able to do simple addition and subtraction. for example, when we are playing with blocks I will group them together in a set of 10 and I will take two away and she will say 8. The same goes for addition.

  • She knows all of her 2D shapes and colors. She does not yet understand that a ball is a sphere, she just sees it as a ball.

  • She can sing along with the ABC's but when we ask her to repeat the ABC's from memory she may get to H or I and needs help.

  • She groups things together. For example, when we are using stickers for art time she will group all of the animal stickers together on one part of the paper, all of the plants, flowers and trees in another part, all of the butterfly's and ants in another etc.

  • She is able to read simple books with one to two words on each page and she will sit there and turn the pages and read until the book is finished and usually read it again and again. My husband and I are not sure if this is from memorization of us reading her these books or if she is really understanding the concept of sounding out words and reading. She does get frustrated sometimes when she does not know a word and will make one up in its place, its adorable.

  • She uses her toys in different ways, the other day she was playing with her blanket and placed it over her crafts table and made a fort and brought in her 4 favorite stuffed animals and just played, almost like a 5 year old would play in a playhouse. It amazes me that she does these things and I am not sure if this is advanced for her age or just something that some toddlers with imagination tend to do.

  • If she is faced with an obstacle she thinks of a different ways of solving them. For example, if I place a chair in front of something that she wants to get to, instead of just moving the chair which she did at about 12 months, she will crawl under the chair to get to where she wants to go.

  • She is able to console you if you are sad and verbalize to that she understands your emotions. She will say "mommy is sad" and give me a hug and kiss. Or if I get a paper cut she will say "owie Mommy".

  • If there is something that we told her she is not allowed to do, and somebody else does this she will say "no no no". This happens a lot when crossing the street. She knows to hold either mine or my husbands hand but she also thinks that my husband and I should hold hands to cross the street.

  • She is able to understand and accomplish almost anything that you ask her to do. If you ask her to go get a diaper and wipes she will instantly go do this. If you ask her to get her arts and crafts to draw a picture for somebody, she will. When you ask her to clean up her toys she will put all of her toys where they are supposed to go.

  • My husband is in college and if you ask her where her daddy is during the day she will say "daddy's at school, learning" or "daddy is learning". She recently just started using more complex sentences.

  • She will repeat words that she hears, no matter the word. Some of the words she will say incorrectly but you know what she is trying to say. This is in reference to more complex words such as necessarily; she may pronounce it like "necessisly" or something similar. Her vocabulary is unbelievable. She knows words that I have not taught her and I don't understand how that is possible.

  • She tells us when she wants to take a nap, she always says "night night" when she wants to take a nap or when it is bed time.

  • She is able to distinguish animal sounds and know what type of animal it is. (basic animals such as dog, cat, cow, pig).

  • She feeds herself very well, but one time she will use her fork or spoon in her right hand and then the next time she eats she will use her left and I see no difference in coordination.

  • She has been able to play catch since she was probably 8 or 9 months old. She will stand at one part of the yard, maybe 7-9 feet away from one of us and throw the ball very well, she catches it sometimes but not all of the time". We play with different color balls and she will say "red ball, orange ball, blue ball" etc.

  • She is able to put puzzles together on her own.

  • She is able to talk on the phone and scroll down to "DADDY" or "MEME (grandma)"

  • She is able to use her tablet and write basic words such as daddy and mommy.

  • We give her the options of what to wear and she will pick out a shirt, pants or shorts, socks that usually don't match, and shoes (the shoes always match and are usually the same pair). occasionally she will want to wear a hat as well. She has been doing this since she was about 12 months old.

  • When one of her toys started to run out of batteries and no sing correctly and sounded like it was dying, she got up, grabbed the television remote, took off the back and grabbed the batteries out of the back. That is as far as she got because we don't allow her to play with small items such as batteries but we were astonished at what she had done. My husband changed the batteries for her and she went back to playing.

  • She says please and thank you and has very polite manners.

  • If she is trying to get something that is to high for her, she will go grab her potty chair (which is also a step stool) and take it to what she trying to get so she is tall enough to reach it. Seriously amazing

There are so many things that she does that are amazing! We are first time parents and have not been around children until we had her so we are not sure if the things that she is capable of are normal, advanced, or gifted or if we should get her tested to get her into a special preschool to help her thrive and be around other children like her. We don't want her to feel different in any way.

There are some concerning things that she does socially that I will address to her Pediatrician when we see her next to include :

  • When she is playing with children her age she gets frustrated and will stop playing with them. For example, if they are putting a puzzle together and the other child is chewing on the puzzle piece or does not know where it goes, she will say "NO" and grab the puzzle piece away from the child, place it in the correct spot and then turn her back to the other child and proceed to finish the puzzle on her own. She will come grab my hand and bring me over to her play area at times and let me play with her versus another child her own age.

  • She has never had any separation anxiety and is always just fine when we leave her at day care or with my parents to run errands. I mean, she has never once cried or cared that we had to leave.

If you could just give me some advice on the best thing to do for her, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you for your advise, I just want to know avenues that I can take or if I should just buy her more advanced toys or take her to older children's play groups or just keep everything the same.

A: You have provided a rather detailed description of your daughter's development; however I am not able to find her age anywhere! Depending on how old she may be, it would help determine how advanced she would be. I am assuming that she is a toddler based on the advanced skills you mentioned therefore my advice would be based on that and in more general terms so it applies to that range of age.

Her specific developmental needs that you mentioned may be a need to help her learn at her pace which is more advanced than the average toddler. At this stage, however, there is no need to subject her to tests to determine if she is gifted. Regardless, she could be advanced and the best thing to do now is to go according to her pace and not her peers. If she has mastered any activity, go on to the next one gradually increasing the levels of difficulty. Advanced children would need stimulating, challenges, play that is meaningful and accelerated learning.

A good start would be to encourage your little one to follow her interests, which you probably are already doing. In case you find that she 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 children who are advanced, so it is always important to have a variety even within the same activity. This would involve creativity on your side. You must also know when to stop – a good cue is to observe when she starts to lose interest (irritable, distracted). Then, drop the activity and allow her free playtime. Free playtime allows children to explore and discover a lot of things. At a very young age, children have so much to learn therefore exposure is a great teacher. Structured activities may be a little rigid so you may need to have minimal structured activities and act more as a facilitator.

If you have plans to enrol her in any educational program, perhaps a play school that allows longer periods of free play with other children may be a good option (e.g., Montessori based nurseries). It has been found that in the long run, attempts to force academics skills at an early age may depress intellectual development of young children. She would need socialising skills so the earlier she learns to play and accept other children, the better for her.

You may also want to introduce her more to the world of books since she has started recognising words and would be able to read simple sentences with some help. It is not clear if she is memorising everything but having a good memory is one of the distinct qualities of potentially gifted young children and since she is able to apply what she has learnt, it indicates rather advanced development. Make sure you vary her daily activities by offering lots of new experiences. Perhaps when she is slightly older and more ready, you could introduce music lessons (which develop specific areas of the brain region), dance art, museum, nature outings, etc. What is important here is to find a good balance between her abilities and intensities. Please do not worry if she is gifted or not, just follow her lead and pace and allow her to develop to her maximum potential. Before enrolling her in any play school, discuss with the teachers her skills and let them know that you would want to see her go beyond what she has mastered and not be bored in class. Best wishes to you!


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