Early Identification of Giftedness
How to Identify Giftedness in Young Children
From the moment a baby is born, parents, family members and caregivers are constantly looking for reassurance that the infant is developing ‘normally’. Such attention is usually focused upon the baby reaching developmental milestones at the expected age or within what is regarded as a reasonable time frame. Adults generally acknowledge that there can be individual differences in development and that infants can be slightly delayed in reaching some developmental milestones without this being a cause for concern.
When a baby or infant appears to be developmentally delayed by several months, attentive parents will approach a medical practitioner, paediatrician or other child development specialist to seek reassurance that this developmental delay is within the normal range of development. If their child is found to have significant delays, parents naturally want to identify a cause for this delay (if possible) and to establish ways in which they can help to progress the child’s development. Attentive, aware and nurturing parents who arrange early identification, intervention and supports for the child who is developmentally delayed will achieve the best possible long-term outcomes for their child.
What happens if the infant’s development is not ‘normal’, but in a different way? What happens if an infant’s attainment of developmental milestones does not fall within the expected age range but instead, these milestones are achieved ahead of the expected age range? Parents generally acknowledge that there can be individual differences in development and that infants can be slightly ahead in reaching some developmental milestones without this provoking comment. As with developmental delays, it is the degree of variance from the expected norm that seems to focus caregivers’ attention.
Lists of the expected developmental milestones and the ages at which these are expected to be achieved are freely available. Despite what is listed, parents understand that a child’s development is not always linear, evenly spaced and consistent with the details on a chart. Babies and infants who are achieving milestones approximately one-third ahead of the expected age should be carefully observed to see if this was just a brief growth spurt or if this is a consistent pattern of advanced development. An infant, who exhibits other behaviours such as: an unusual level of alertness, heightened awareness and perception, greater curiosity, extended concentration span and advanced play patterns, may be exhibiting behaviours that are consistent with advanced development or giftedness.
Just as parents of children with developmental delays might experience, there can be discomfort, distress or denial about a child’s developmental difference. Unsure what to do, a parent may initially ignore or deny that a child appears different from most other children in any way. Parents of young children with advanced development rarely seek clarification or suggestions from parents of other young children, afraid that their comments and questions may be perceived as boasting about their own child’s development. Within extended families, it may be seen as natural for a grandparent to exclaim excitedly about an infant’s behaviour or comment on what a young child can do; however this is easily dismissed as the bias of a proud grandparent rather than an informed awareness based upon their experience as a parent. Unless a child has behavioural difficulties or a concurrent area of disability (referred to as twice-exceptional), rarely do parents approach a paediatrician or other child development specialist to obtain information or advice if an infant or young child appears to be significantly advanced in attaining milestones, believing that such specialists are only available if the child is thought to have a delay or developmental disorder. Young children can show the early signs of being gifted, together with a disability, but often learning disabilities may not become apparent until a child starts school.
Emeritus Professor Miraca Gross, Director of the Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre (GERRIC) at the University of New South Wales, makes an important distinction about the degree of difference from the norm when she explains that every child is a gift; every child has relative strengths; however not every child is gifted because giftedness is a psychological and educational term that refers to the top ten percent of the population.
Giftedness is not related the value of a child. Surely we value and treasure every child, irrespective of their intellectual abilities and developmental stage. Parents understand that children learn and progress at different rates. Gifted children are able to learn and progress more quickly than others of a similar chronological age. This process starts early, with babies and infants demonstrating their advanced abilities by attaining developmental milestones at an earlier age than other children of the same age.
The early identification of delays, disabilities and needs can inform the ways in which parents and professionals can intervene early to support children who experience developmental difficulties. Similarly, the early identification of strengths, abilities and an understanding of the level of the child’s developmental advancement can guide parents and professionals in how they can appropriately stimulate, support and plan for young children who are gifted. It is never too early for parents to gain a better understanding of their child and to learn how to provide for their child’s needs.
Michele Juratowitch, Director of Clearing Skies, provides counselling for gifted children and the parents of alert, developmentally advanced children of all ages. Michele was awarded a Churchill Fellowship. She is conducting the Stuartholme STEAM Residential for gifted girls in Years 5 & 6: https://www.stuartholme.com/event/steam-residential/
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