Ahead of the Curve
Q. I'm sure most parents think their babies are bright, but I am convinced that our 22-month-old is truly gifted. She already identifies colors, counts to ten, recognizes letters, and speaks in full sentences. Books are her favorite toys, and she knows many of them by heart. Should I have her tested or be doing anything special to stimulate her development?
A. Your child certainly sounds precocious, and I commend you for wanting to enrich her environment. The test most commonly performed on babies to evaluate their development is the Denver Developmental Screening Test (DDST). This test assesses a child's gross and fine motor skills, as well as her language and social skills, in order to determine her developmental age. This test, however, cannot accurately predict your daughter's later intellectual ability. If you would like her to be tested, ask your pediatrician if she can administer the DDST.
As for I.Q. tests, which measure intelligence, they are less reliable and more difficult to administer before 3 or 4 years of age, as the child may have difficulty understanding the questions or may not want to cooperate. If you do decide to have your daughter's I.Q. tested in a year or so, choose an examiner experienced in the evaluation of young children. No matter what the results, keep in mind that I.Q. tests will measure only a fraction of your daughter's intellectual abilities. While the tests are generally good indicators of language skills, reading ability, and mathematical reasoning, they fail to identify exceptional talent in music or art, dance or athletics, leadership or interpersonal relations, or creative imagination.
Most gifted children aren't recognized as such before the preschool years, but their parents often report that they achieved developmental milestones -- such as sitting, standing, or walking -- early on. But the best predictors of accelerated development are advanced language skills. Gifted children often start speaking early, have an unusually large vocabulary, and may learn to read before starting school. As infants, they tend to be highly alert and observant, may seek extra stimulation and carrying, and require frequent changes of surroundings to prevent frustration and boredom.
The line between an average baby and a gifted one can be fuzzy, especially during the first year, but as the child grows older, there are discernible differences. For example, a child who's verbally gifted will speak and understand directions sometimes six to ten months earlier than other children. Keep in mind, however, that there are different types of gifted children: those who are accelerated in multiple areas of development and those who are exceptionally advanced in only one area while possessing average abilities in others. For example, a wide gap may exist between a gifted child's intellectual ability and her physical skills or emotional development. This developmental disparity can cause difficulties for the gifted child, especially when it's coupled with a parent's unrealistic expectations.
A gifted child shouldn't be viewed as a status symbol or a burden, but first and foremost as a child who requires abundant love, nurturing, protection, physical activity, and play. If you come to the conclusion that your daughter is gifted, you should make an effort to provide an enriched and supportive environment for her, remembering to stimulate all aspects of her intellectual development, not just the exceptional areas. Perhaps most important, let her know that you love her for who she is, and not just for her special abilities.
The fact is that the vast majority of children have the potential to develop their talents into creative accomplishments. I believe that every parent should ask, "How is my child special?" and foster the emergence of those attributes unique to each youngster.
Marianne Neifert, M.D. (Dr. Mom), is a pediatrician, mother of five, and the author of Dr. Mom and Dr. Mom's Parenting Guide.