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Signs of Early Advanced Abilities

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Hi, I'm just wondering if my child is showing signs of giftedness. He is 29 months old (he was a month premature also) and for months he has been able to count to 20 forward and backwards. He also understands there is a sequence, so if we begin doing higher numbers like 30s 40s etc he knows 42 would follow 41. He also knows 100. He can also recognise numbers and encourages us to test him by writing them on a piece of paper for him to guess. He recognises the alphabet also and most shapes and colours.

He can draw faces with eyes, nose, and mouth and can determine if they are happy faces or sad faces. He can also draw a stick figure with complete face, body, legs and arms. He loves looking at books, music, singing, dancing, art and has quite an imagination (he has been pretending he is a robot for about a year now who 'powers down' and we have to press his button for him to 'power up' again. He is also very sensitive and very aware of things that are going on and reading peoples emotions. He didn't walk till he was 14 months though (which seems slow when I compare him to other children).

What are your thoughts? Should I be trying to nurture him in a particular way? Thank you for your help.

A: From your description, it is hard to tell if your child is gifted. As a rule of thumb, a gifted child progresses about 30% faster than their peers. What you have indicated seems appropriate it was around 29 months. However, if the development was at different stages, say when he first counted till 100, recognising numbers etc, it could indicate advanced ability. The specific ages was not mentioned in this case.

It must be noted that more and more children are showing signs of early advancement due to parental awareness that leads to the right coaching and nurturance. Hence, to be placed in gifted programmes today, the criteria are much tougher than it has ever been in the past and competition is rather stiff. However, regardless on whether a child shows signs early or later, all children deserve an opportunity to develop themselves to the fullest and at a tender age, parents are the best teachers/educators.

There are two ranges of age groups that I will focus here; from birth to 2 years old and from 2 – 4 years of age.

Birth – 2 years
The following checklist is a rough indication of what you may want to look out for after your child is born up to 2 years of age.

  • Ability of recognize carers early (within a few months after birth)
  • Early expressions (e.g. smiling)
  • Unusual alertness
  • Interest in books (turning pages of books before 1 year of age and paying attention when read to within 6 months)
  • Interest in computers 
  • Unusually active and high levels of energy (but not hyperactive)
  • Playing with shape sorters by about 11 months.
  • Ability to form two word phrases by 14 months
  • Ability to understand instructions by 18 months
  • Ability to say and understand many words before 18 months
  • Could stay still and enjoy a TV programs (e.g., Sesame Street) by the age of 1
  • Has favorite TV shows/VCD/DVDs by age 1
  • Appears to require less sleep (yet not sleepy or irritable due to lack of sleep)
  • Recognition of letters/alphabets by age 2
  • Recognition and rote counting of numbers 1 – 10 or higher by age 2
  • Recognition of colors by age 2
  • Recognition of first word by age 2
  • Interest in puzzles by age 2
  • Has long attention span in interest areas by age 2
  • Ability to form at least 3 word sentence by age 2
  • Interest in time by age 2

2 – 4 years

The following includes all/most skills in the checklist above.

  • Early and extensive language development and vocabulary, forms grammatically correct sentences as compared to peers
  • Interest in computers (not video games)
  • Ability to solve a 20-piece puzzle by age 3
  • Has a vivid imagination (includes having imaginary friends)
  • Extraordinary feats of memory
  • Extreme curiosity and asks many questions
  • Specific talent (if any), such as artistic ability or an unusual facility for numbers - becomes more apparent by age 4
  • Ability to memorize and recall facts easily
  • Early development of a sense of humor
  • Ability to do one-to-one counting for small quantities by age 3
  • Recognition of simple signs and own written name by age 3
  • Ability to write letters, numbers, words, and their names between 3 and 4 years
  • Ability to read easy readers by age 4
  • Rather independent on the computer by age 4
  • Demonstration of musical aptitude just after 2
  • Ability to do simple addition and subtraction by age 4
  • High degrees of mathematical understanding by age 4

The above checklist is at best regarded as a rough guide and bear in mind that not all of the skills and age guide mentioned is absolute. Some children may demonstrate these abilities at a younger age and some may be older and yet classified as advanced learners. However, this can be a good guide to look out for signs of early advanced development in children and provide the necessary platform for them to flourish.

Finally, you may want to check out “Potential Plus UK" (formerly The National Association for Gifted Children, UK) that provides an online questionnaire (it's NOT free, minimal fee applies), which will give you an indicator about your child's level of development. Please bear in mind that this questionnaire is a rough indicator only is by no means an assessment. Hope that helps.


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