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Nurturing Advanced Ability

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I am the mother of a verbose 20 month old. I was an early talker myself - saying my first words at 6 months old. I anticipated that my daughter may speak early, so when she had a language explosion at 13 months I wasn't surprised - that seemed pretty normal to me. I was writing down all her words as she acquired them, until I lost count at two hundred words by the time she was 17 months old.

Now at 20 months she is speaking in 3 - 6 word sentences, using connecting words 'a', 'like', 'and'. She follows directions very well - understanding what I mean when I say 'put this back where it belongs, please'. She's a very co-operative child, eager to learn and help. She says 'hippopotamus' perfectly. This one floored me when she pointed to a picture in a book of animals and pronounced it clearly.

She also recognizes all the letters. She loves pointing them out in signs when we're out. I did nothing to teach this to her, except letting her play with a leap frog letter factory.

I could go on and on about her language development, but for brevity's sake I'll stop there. I want to mention another point I found surprising. For the past few months she's been scribbling with crayons, usually scribbling the green back and forth to create a long shape, and then saying "I draw a zucchini!" (Why a zucchini, I don't know, but it's very funny), but the other day she drew what looked for all the world like a dandelion. A long green line for a stem, zig-zaggy scribbles as leaves, and a yellow fringe at the end of the long line. I asked her what she was drawing, and she said, "I draw a fuzzy danden."

I know this is fairly advanced behaviour - she is way ahead of all of her peers. I'm just wondering if this is verging on Gifted territory, and if so, what should I be doing to help support her as she grows ?

Thank you in advance!

A: At 20 months, your little one has definitely showed above-average development compared to her peers, something you have probably noticed. It is very good that you have recorded her milestones. Her language development is rather advanced, though probably in the average range in the “advanced category”, but she appears to be picking up speed. As you mentioned, you have not taught her much and she is doing well mostly on her own, shows signs of early gifts.

A good start would be to encourage her to follow her interests, which you probably are doing already, simply by allowing her a lot of guided free play which helps a lot in exploring and discovering. 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 advanced children, so it is always important to vary 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). Then, drop the activity and allow her some free play time.

She also shows advanced motor skills, as seen in her drawing recognizable pictures, ability to follow instructions and place items appropriately. Carry on with these - e.g., riding a tricycle or roller skate by say 24 months, improving eye-hand coordination (e.g., using a computer mouse properly), and other motor skills abilities.

If you have plans to enroll her in any educational program, perhaps a play school that allows long periods of free play with other children may be a good option (e.g., a good 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.

You may also want to introduce her to a larger world of books. At then same time, vary her daily activities by offering lots of new experiences. Maybe when she is slightly older and more ready, you can introduce music lessons (which develop specific areas of the brain region) dance art, museum, nature outings, etc. Or you may want to start now, just as a fun activity and see where it leads her. What is important here is to find a good balance between her abilities and intensities. (do read the previous newsletters for more activities)

At 20 months, I feel it may be somewhat premature to label toddlers as gifted, however, as parents; you need to look out for advanced sign. This is crucial to meet their educational needs by providing a balance between educational, psychological, and emotional well-being and development.

Best wishes to you!.


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