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Developmental Milestones of an Above Average Child

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I notice that my son (Cayden, 13-month) shows signs that might indicate he's gifted. But I'd like to hear experts' opinions first. I appreciate your time and effort providing tremendous help for parents like me.

Before I get to details about my son, I'd like to introduce backgrounds of my family. I and my husband are from different countries. We live in California. There are 4 languages spoken in our family. The main care-takers of my son are my mom and in-laws. They (my mom and in-laws) take turn for taking care of my son and their time span is usually 5 months each time in US. I communicate with my husband in English. My mom only talks to my son in Chinese but she talks to me in a different language than Chinese. In-laws only talk to my son in their native language.

  • Showed him how to play a spinning toy in 4-month. He understood that toy would spin if he hit on the target. He tried couple times. Sometimes he hit the target sometimes he didn't. But I found out he was very disappointed and upset if he didn't hit the right target and I stop showing him the spinning toy.

  • My mother-in-law usually made 'RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR' vibrating sound using her tongue to distract Cayden's attention while diaper change. He learned how to mimic that sound as early as 5-month-old (the first month my in-laws start taking care of him). He also mimics the tongue clicking sound I made and later I found him always doing that when he's trying to call our family dogs.

  • Scribbles Spontaneously as early as 6-7 months. He just love to grab anything out of our hands. One time he sits on my laps while I was writing something. He grabbed the pen out of my hands and tried to mimic what I was doing.

  • Holds Object (Finger Thumb). He start picking up small items (drop food, paper, hair etc.) on the floor before he's 5 months. It's like small dust on the floor bothers him a lot that he has to pick it up. He can pick up an avocado from table in only one hand in 7 months and coins from wooden floor in 10 months.

  • He can open a bottle cap (screwed cap) in 9 months. We didn't teach him. He just learned that by watching us. One day he grabbed a bottle and opened the cap by our surprised.

  • Turns pages of a book (10 months).

  • Throws ball (10 months). In 13 months, he can throw and catch ball we roll to him.

  • Walks upstairs (10 months with us holding his hands).

  • Tack 3 blocks (11 months). When I made a 5 block tower, he would put the 6th one on the top. But he never wanted to stack more than 4 blocks by himself.

  • Walking with no help (12 months).

  • He loves watching Teletubbies DVD. When he says "laa-laa (one of the characters), that means he want to watch Teletubbies.

  • He can say probably 30 words now in 13 months (English & Chinese). His first word (other than dada meaningless word) is "what" in my husband's language in his 5 months. Because at that time my in-laws talked to him a lot. But after in-laws left, it took sometimes for my son to start talking and build up his vocabularies again.

  • He understand a lot instructions like "pick up that xxx and throw it to trash can" and "where is Vimal (my husband)? Vimal is in his room, go knock on his door" etc. (13 months).

  • He always wants to be part of our daily chores. For example, he wants to hold boom and dustpan and pretend he's actually sweeping the floor. After seeing us water plants, he wanted to join us too. We gave him a bucket with water and a spoon, he then scoop water and pour on plants.

  • We show him his video from the camera screen. We asked him who is that and he said "den-den". (We call him den-den for nick name)

Best regards and thank you very much for your time.

A: 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.

What you may want to do now is nurture his potential further. Perhaps, a good start 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. Please bear in mind 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 she starts to lose interest (irritable, distracted). If this happens, drop the activity and allow her some free play time. But to stop the activity totally may not be a good idea (e.g., the spinning toy). It would be good for him to learn and accept that he may not hot the target everytime and you need to try to ensure that it is perfectly fine for that to happen. What you can do is to miss the target yourself and show him that even adults miss targets. Also allow lots of time for free play (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.

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, but you may want to introduce him to the world of books.

  • You can also watch educational programs with him and ask him the “whys” and “whats” - and then explain. Since he enjoys teletubbies, use the programme to help his explore learning further.

  • 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.

You are indeed very fortunate to have extended family visiting for sometime. Grandparents are very influential in young children's lives and your son appears to have benefitted very much from his grandparents. 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. 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. Keep monitoring his progress and encourage his to learn positively. Wishing you all the best!


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