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Developmental Milestones of a Gifted Toddler

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Ultimately, I am trying (like many parents) to get a gauge of my son's learning potential-level so I can provide the best for him.

I am looking for concrete examples of normal vs. advanced reasoning for a 20-24 month old.

My son seems to learn systems quite easily (see "I" examples) -- but I do not know what is normal in terms of understanding more complex concepts & solving problems at this age (see II examples).


  • less than 1: obsessed with stop lights (red = stop and green = go) -Was first exposed to alphabet at 12 months, had it mastered (to our surprise) a few months later -Counting to 10 at about 18 months and figured out the counting system in a heartbeat (21-22-23...) -1000 vocabulary at 18 months -Loves numbers (in parking lot has to read all the stalls 34, 35, 36, etc.) -Does "math" on his fingers ("2 plus 2 equals 4") and with objects ("3 take away 1 is 2") -Counts all sorts of things, for example, the number of carrot slices as I cook

  • at 14-18 months: very good with 10 colors

  • 23 months: Very accurate with left/right

  • 12 months: could accurately identify (say) 10 shapes

  • 24 months: corrects me if I accidentally refer to a number as a “letter”. When Daddy is all done working I show him the ampersand" -Now obsessed with time - checks the clock several times a day - is accurate with hour hand - loves setting and watching the timer -Loves doing spelling activities (typing on computer) -- he can get initial letters on any word almost perfectly -now identifying the spelling beyond initial word (BTW, he initiates all these activities) -can sight read many words -- but much more into spelling than reading -Likes to know/guess the direction we are going (N, S, E or W)

Are these scenarios typical at these ages:

  • 12-14 months: making a lot of comparisons like big/small (and changing his voice accordingly); smooth/rough, high/low, light/dark, etc.

  • 18-20 months: Very good at identifying a photo vs. a painting

  • 20-24 months: clear preference for art he likes and dislikes --18-24 months: can sing a ton of songs (Ba-ba-blacksheep, green grass, etc.) and creates his own lyrics (for fun) with those tunes. 20 months (DESCRIPTIVE/PROCESS: explains how to use his iPod while demonstrating: "slide here, click here, open Clock")

  • 21 months (DESCRIPTIVE/PROCESS): recounts how a boat runs ("turn the key, motors starts, propeller goes around fast, boat goes fast...") - he is obsessed with boat motors

  • 21 months (INFERENTIAL?): recounts relationships of new people he meets after one, brief introduction (e.g., "Carol lives with Bob and Alex and Mel and Sassy in Florida")

  • 24 months (INFERENTIAL): I ask my husband to watch our 2-year old around a splintered piece of wood on the edge of a piece of furniture, the 2-year old immediately responds "put tape on it - that fix it" before my husband says a word.

A: It appears quite obvious that your son's development is rather advanced, something gifted children usually master by two years of age.

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

Hope the above would help you gauge the developmental milestones of your child. Best of luck!


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