5 Signs Your Toddler May Be Gifted

Think your toddler might be gifted? Here are some things to look for!

by Teresa Currivan, LMFT, Parent Coach

I had no idea what giftedness meant when I had my son. So, when he spoke his first word at 4 months, I thought I was hearing things. One day, when he was two years old, I was nervous about something. He said, “Mommy, just breathe.” I knew he was special, but I didn’t connect it to the word “gifted.”

I have a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In all that time, in school or in the field, the term “gifted” never entered into my training. Most professionals working with children do not have training in giftedness. Yes, you heard me right. Even the ones we pay a lot for neuro-psych evaluations, the ones in schools. And it’s not their fault. It’s just often not part of the curriculum.

In addition, an important fact to know is that most standard testing does not test into the higher ranges of giftedness. This is why so many highly gifted kids are not thriving in our typical schools. The more gifted the child, the less likely you will get an accurate assessment, unless you go to the right place.

As a result, we as parents need to know what to watch for (and when to look for it) and have some tools to identify and address what may be going on with your children. 

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One of my major goals in my work is to help parents identify their highly gifted children early enough to get them headed in the right direction – although keep in mind, it’s never too late!

Nothing is written in stone as relates to the gifted, but here are 5 signs that may indicate that your toddler is gifted:

1. Reads or is interested in books early

Gifted children, even those who cannot read, often show interest in books at a very early age. Before my son could walk, he would take a book off the shelf and try to open it and turn the pages. Most gifted children are voracious readers.

One caveat: In my world, there are many highly gifted people with unusual vision issues. I’m not sure how this is related, but I’m hopeful there will be studies. Though we had my son’s vision tested three times throughout his childhood, he wasn’t correctly diagnosed until second grade when we took him to a developmental optometrist. After vision therapy, he began to read.

2. Early Language

These kids are able to articulate things that many adults cannot. When my son was 14 months old, I was considering putting him in preschool and going back to work. I remember one day I was particularly torn and distraught. He looked at me and said, “I just want my mommy to be happy.” That was a big wow moment.

Another caveat: A child may have apraxia (a speech sound disorder) or dysarthria (a difficulty with strength or coordination of the speech muscles) which prevents him from articulating, but this does not necessarily mean there isn’t understanding. I once met with a 4 year-old who couldn’t speak (and was in speech therapy), but I could see his eyes moving across the page of a book, as though he was reading. You may be able to see signs that the child is understanding complex language and ideas, even though they can’t speak.

3. Constant drive to understand, explore, create and remember odd facts in their areas of interest

Gifted children are always doing something, talking about something or learning something. Hello, exhausted parent. They can have very specific interests that last a lifetime, or they may go deeply into a topic for months then move to another. My son, like many children, had his dinosaur phase, his machines phase, his I’m-a-scientist-and-I’m-going-to-experiment-all-day phase, (that was so fun to clean up after), the phase where our house felt like a rain forest because there were toy animals and bugs on the floors, countertops, walls. It’s like each mess had a theme.

If you see these signs in your child at a very young age, take notice. It may problematic in a few years if they get bored easily in school, so early intervention is important.

4. Relates easily to adults

Often, gifted children exhibit an ability to interact well with adults. They can use language more akin to that of adults and talk about things at a deeper level, because their cognitive and interest skills are advanced for their age group. Does your child have long conversations with and seek out that scientist-neighbor more than kids his own age? Encourage the friendship. Who says we have to hang out with people our own age all the time?

The other side to this is that a gifted child may be socially out of sync with her peers. While many parents naturally want to encourage their children “get along” better with their same age peers, finding peers who are wired like them is going to be more helpful initially. As they grow into an understanding of themselves and why they are different, they will be better equipped to socially interact with same age peers.

5. Can hold attention to a task longer than normal when engaged

Gifted kids can get into a book, create a project, write a story or do artwork for hours with a sense of deep concentration. At the same time, giftedness can also bring intense perfectionism and frustration at not being able to master the task that they envision.

One baby I observed could turn over onto his back, but not the other way around. As he tried to turn back the other way, he would get extremely frustrated. So much so that his usually patient mom had to control herself not to help him flip the other way. His frustration felt bigger than most babies’.

Once he was on his belly, he arched his back so that he could see in front of him. Positioned halfway between a rug and a hardwood floor, he looked at the floor and back to the rug. With deep concentration, his body struggling to keep his head up, he patted the hardwood floor and then the rug, then watched and appeared to be listening to the sound intently. His eyes were very intent and focused. It was as though he was conducting a scientific experiment on the difference in texture and volume, using sound, and sight between the two.

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Gifted toddlers can also be more sensitive than most. I find that some highly gifted children are empaths, which means that they have a felt sense of what others are going through. I touch on this a bit in the link below.

These sensitivities can sometimes make a gifted individual appear insensitive, such as the child who doesn’t easily make eye contact. For some, making eye contact is a very intense, vulnerable act.

Once you’ve noticed signs of giftedness, make sure to seek help from professionals who know the difference between the gifted ranges and how this impacts all areas, not just education. It’s not unusual for me to get calls from parents of high-school aged children who have had a trail of different diagnoses for their child. In general, girls are getting missed and can often veer toward depression and hiding their giftedness while the boys act out and get into trouble. Understanding how your child learns and engages with the world as early as possible is the best gift you can give them. Good luck!

For a quick read about children who may be empaths, click here. For my article about gifted boys, click here.

Teresa Currivan is a mother and a licensed marriage and family therapist who coaches parents by phone and in the office at Help My Child Thrive Coaching.  She specializes in giftedness, twice exceptionality, life changes, creative blocks, family dynamics, and individuals. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. You can find more articles on her website HelpMyChildThrive.com or her Facebook page, fb.me/TeresaCurrivanCoaching. ©Teresa Currivan 2018

This post was originally published at HelpMyChildThrive.com.