Is Your Child Gifted? Early Signs & Testing

There is no universally accepted definition of a gifted child, but somehow it’s easy to think we’ve got one. We see a child whose vocabulary is way beyond her years, or his ability to concentrate on building complex structures with Legos that’s truly amazing and we wonder, “Is my child gifted?” But once that thought crosses your mind, what do you do about it . . . and what is gifted anyway?

Talented or Gifted?

One good working definition of giftedness is provided on the National Association for Gifted Children website by University of Quebec psychology researcher Francoys Gagné, Ph.D. He describes it as “the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed natural abilities (called aptitudes or gifts) in at least one domain to a degree that places a child among the top 10% of his or her age peers.” Talent, on the other hand, is defined as mastery of systematically developed skills or knowledge.

What Schools May Not Recognize

Most schools do not attempt to identify giftedness until the second or third grade, and even then, teachers don’t always have special training in identifying giftedness. It’s really going to be up to you, the parents, to start the ball rolling in the right direction if you think you have a gifted child. There are signs and signals to look out for early on in his life.

The Signs of Giftedness

The signs of giftedness can show as early as infancy and become more pronounced as children grow. Early recognition of important people in his life, unusual alertness, early expressions like smiling, high interest in books and page turning, and interest in shape sorters by 11 months are just a few indicators for kids under one year of age.

For kids under 2 years old, keep in mind that you’re looking for spontaneously expressed abilities in different areas of learning. Watch for the ability to form two-word phrases by 14 months and to understand instructions by 18 months. More obvious signs are the ability to recognize letters, numbers to 10, and the names of colors by age 2.

Common characteristics of gifted children, as defined by A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, include:

  • Rapid learner; puts thoughts together quickly
  • Excellent memory
  • Unusually large vocabulary and complex sentence structure for age
  • Advanced comprehension of word nuances, metaphors, and abstract ideas
  • Enjoys solving problems, especially with numbers and puzzles
  • Often self-taught reading and writing skills as a preschooler
  • Deep, intense feelings and reactions
  • Highly sensitive
  • Thinking is abstract, complex, logical, and insightful
  • Idealism and sense of justice at an early age
  • Concern with social and political issues and injustices
  • Longer attention span and intense concentration
  • Preoccupied with own thoughts—daydreamer
  • Learn basic skills quickly and with little practice
  • Ask probing questions
  • Wide range of interests (or extreme focus in one area)
  • Highly developed curiosity
  • Interest in experimenting and doing things differently
  • Puts idea or things together that are not typical
  • Keen and/or unusual sense of humor
  • Desire to organize people/things through games or complex schemas
  • Vivid imaginations (and imaginary playmates when in preschool)

The Needs of Gifted Children

Children who are gifted learners need intellectual and creative stimulation or they become bored. And that can be a problem for you as a parent. It just makes sense to figure out if you’ve got quick learners on your hands so you can feed them learning experiences. They need to go at a faster pace than other kids. By the time your child gets into the school system, and certainly by the second or third grade, you should be in a position to say, “Let’s test for giftedness.”

Schools provide special programs for gifted kids so they can learn at their accelerated pace and have good access to advanced classes. But they must be identified as “gifted” before special considerations are given. Definitions of giftedness vary greatly state by state. The National Association for Gifted Children maintains a list on their website of each state’s definitions and where to go for more information about your school system.

How Should I Alert My School?

Okay, you’re pretty sure you have a bright child and want to begin the process of obtaining special services at school. At the least you would like the teacher to take your child’s giftedness into consideration in the classroom. Where to begin the dialogue? To help sort it out in a recent issue of Psychology Today, Developmental Psychologist Dona Matthews, Ph.D. offers a three point checklist on how to introduce the subject to your child’s teacher.

Dr. Matthews explains that there are a number of domains, or areas, of intelligence and a child can have giftedness in some of them and not others. If your child is tested, they will be assessing these different areas of intelligence. As a parent, you can help in the process in the following ways:

  • Ask the right questions – Rather than focusing on your child’s IQ, ask yourself (and the teacher!) “How does my child learn? What are his/her areas of strength and weakness?” “What does my child need right now in order to feel both challenged and supported in his/her learning?” “What can we do to help?”
  • Assess what your child knows, needs to know, and wants to know – Determine what are her strengths and weaknesses in all subject areas. Ask what she wants to know more about; see if there are specialized abilities.
  • Work with teachers – Tell the teacher you are wondering about giftedness and have made a beginning assessment of areas of strength. You are asking for partnership in the process of determining if further assessments are needed.

If Testing Doesn’t Happen Very Quickly

Teachers and schools are busy, of course. The process of arranging proper giftedness testing may not be quick – and that may be an understatement. But remember, you are your child’s best teacher and advocate and maybe it will be up to you to challenge him with new learning experiences for a while. Read up on gifted children, and jump into the wonderful role of believing in their brightness and giving them lots of things to do and learn. Once you have the assessment done, you will have additional resources to help you along the way.

Has your child been assessed for giftedness? What specialized learning program has your school provided?

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