signs of high intelligence in child

Signs of high intelligence in child

Giftedness a useful guide is the definition used by the US government: “Students, children or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not normally provided by the school in order to develop those capabilities.”

Students with gifts and talents perform or have the capability to perform at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential. Student with gifts and talents:

  • Come from all racial, ethnic, and cultural populations, as well as all economic strata.
  • Require sufficient access to appropriate learning opportunities to realize their potential.
  • Can have learning and processing disorders that require specialized intervention and accommodation.
  • Need support and guidance to develop socially and emotionally as well as in their areas of talent.

What are tell-tale signs that your child could be a genius?

Each child is different and it is difficult to generalize, but most bright children have some of the characteristics listed below:

  • perceptive, inquiring minds
  • unusual insight and intellectual curiosity
  • superior judgment and reasoning ability
  • abstract and critical thinking
  • originality
  • ability to see connections between ideas
  • long concentration spans in areas of interest
  • advanced reading ability
  • extensive vocabulary
  • keen powers of observation
  • strong sense of ethics and values
  • a sense of humor
  • a rapid mastery of basic skills
  • special ability in one or more areas, such as music, art, science, language, computers, or mathematics

This is far from being an all-inclusive list, and not every bright child has all of these characteristics.

In general, compared to children of the same age, gender, temperament and cultural background, the gifted, school-age child will exhibit some of the following behaviors more frequently, more intensely and for a longer period of time. Mensa has a checklist on its website that includes:

  • Developed sense of humor: Exceptionally keen sense of the comical, the bizarre, or the absurd
  • Imagination and creativity: Extraordinary capacity for ingenious, flexible use of ideas, processes, materials or anything else
  • Reading early
  • Inquiry: Probing exploration, deep questions; experiments with events, ideas, feeling, sounds, symbols, movements, etc.
  • Memory and Processing: Tremendous “brain power” for dealing with large amounts of information and skills.
  • Sensitivity: Unusually aware of or responsive to experiences and feelings, both their own and/or those of other people
  • Expressiveness: Extraordinary ability to communicate meaning or emotion through words, actions, symbols, or media
  • Reasoning: Outstanding ability to think things through and consider implications or alternatives; rich, flexible, highly conscious, logical thought
  • Problem solving: Outstanding ability to find systematic solutions to problems; is able to invent and monitor many paths to a goal; seeks challenges
  • Intuition: Suddenly discovers connections or deeper meaning without conscious awareness of reasoning or thought
  • Learning: Able to grasp and use sophisticated new understandings quickly and easily
  • Unusual hobbies or interests or an in-depth knowledge of certain subjects: Advanced, ardent; perhaps for unusual topics; passionate, sometimes fleeting
  • Moral and ethical concerns: Intense need for fairness and justice; deep desire to take action to resolve injustices; concern for consequences of their actions
  • Motivation: Persistent, intense need to know, do, feel, create, or understand
  • An awareness of world events
  • Asks questions all the time
  • Makes up additional rules for games

Many parents or teachers may see signs in a young child that cause them to think that perhaps their child is gifted. Signs such as the ability to learn things very quickly, unusually large vocabulary, or an ability to solve problems could mean that the child is gifted. However, there are also several less obvious characteristics, some of which may surprise you: idealism and a strong sense of justice, for example, or being preoccupied with their own thoughts (daydreaming). Intense curiosity in how things work is a common trait, as is a tendency to experiment with doing things differently or linking ideas or thoughts together that are not usually linked.

Early indications of superior ability as reported by parents:

  • Excellent Memory
  • Long attention span and intensity of focus
  • Early and extensive vocabulary development
  • Extreme curiosity, asking complex, probing questions
  • Learns very rapidly
  • Abstract thinking, ability to generalize concepts
  • Recognized letters of alphabet before the age of two
  • Exceptional aptitude for mathematical reasoning
  • Active imagination and creativity
  • Intense interest in books and words

Early signs of giftedness:

  • unusual alertness in infancy
  • long attention span in infancy
  • less need for sleep in infancy
  • smiling or recognizing caretakers early
  • advanced progression through developmental milestones
  • high activity level
  • extraordinary feats of memory
  • intense interest in books
  • keen powers of observation
  • ability to generalize concepts
  • recognition of letters before age 2
  • ability to put together a 20-piece puzzle before age 3
  • asks complex, probing questions
  • early interest in time—clocks, calendars
  • imaginary playmates

Although not all gifted children will exhibit the same characteristics, if a child shows some of these early signs, giftedness may be indicated. Students with gifts and talents perform or have the capability to perform—at higher levels compared to others of the same age, experience, and environment in one or more domains. They require modification(s) to their educational experience(s) to learn and realize their potential.

Gifted children tend to be larger and more fully developed as infants than other children 1), 2). They may need less sleep than other children 3), which can be distressing to the parents. They may be quite active or “hyperactive,” rocking or moving excessively. They may also have unusual sensitivities, responding to emotional tension around them, or developing food allergies or colic. Many gifted children, however, do not show these particular symptoms. None of these signs which appear in infancy is sufficient to indicate giftedness in itself, but each is worthy of noting to see if further signs emerge.

One of the first symptoms which parents notice is their child’s unusual alertness 4). This may begin to appear shortly after birth or it may gradually become more apparent. The child watches and listens intently, absorbing everything that is happening around her. She will focus her eyes on an object for a longer period of time than do other children. This longer attention span will remain characteristic. Parents of older children often mention the intensity of their children’s concentration.

As early as one month, the child may follow moving objects with her eyes, smile, or make certain sounds other than crying. At two months, she may search for sounds with her eyes, begin to lift her head and chest, move vigorously, anticipate feedings upon seeing a nipple, begin cooing and chuckling. Some infants evidence extremely precocious behavior. For example, a child who smiled on cue at two days old. A child who held his head up and pulled his chest up on his arms almost from birth. He received a “perfect” score on the infant (APGAR) rating scale. This same child waved “hello” at two months of age.

Motor development is often advanced in gifted children. In a study conducted by Cox 5), three children were reported to have begun to walk at six months of age, a period at which most children are just learning how to sit up. Over 83% of this sample walked before their first birthday, the typical age at which other babies stand or walk only with support. Many non-gifted children, however, also learn to walk between their tenth and twelfth month. Another interesting finding in Cox’s study is that many of the children were ambidextrous for some period of time.

The clearest sign of accelerated development is in the area of language. Gifted children tend to speak earlier, use more complex sentence structure, develop a larger vocabulary, show an early interest in books and written works, and express themselves better than other children. In my study, one child said his first word, “hi,” at 4 months of age. One-eighth of the group spoke before their tenth month. Most parents indicated early and extensive vocabulary development. One mother said that her daughter wanted to be read to constantly from the time she “sat up.” Another describes a child who sat for two to three hours listening to books at the age of eighteen months.

There is also the case of the silent gifted child. In this child, language development is atypical. He is unusually quiet after the babbling stage, but manages to communicate all of his needs nonverbally. He appears to understand everything and will follow lengthy sets of directions, indicating high receptive ability. If this does not occur, it is necessary to have the child’s hearing checked. The moment of truth arrives when the child decides to speak and comes out with a full sentence – often a complex one – as his first utterance (e.g., “Charlie, would you please pass the salt?”). Some gifted children have been known not to speak until the age of four. One such case was Einstein. But these late speakers most often begin oral communication with fully formed sentences. Children who tend not to speak at all until they have full sentences may also rehearse other activities in their heads until they have perfected the processes. Instead of creeping and crawling and taking a fist step, they may break into a run one day with no warning.

Gifted children usually have extraordinary memories. In my study, excellent memory was the most prevalent sign of giftedness reported. Parkinson 6) reported that all of the gifted children she studied had excellent memories. They may be able to repeat songs or television commercials well before two years of age. They can frequently “read” a story which has been read to them several times because they remember the words on each page. For example, an 18-month-old do this with a 60-page beginning reader. She was able to recognize several written words at 11 months. Almost half of the children in my study could recognize letters of the alphabet before they were two.

Avid interest in reading prior to school age is one of the signs of giftedness 7). Half of the children studied learned to read before they were five. One-fourth of the study sample read before their fourth birthday. Many of these children reportedly taught themselves to read. Thirty percent of the group wrote their first word by the time they were four years old. Several were reported to have written their first word at two and a half.

After studying a large group of gifted children in California, Martinson 8) reported similar findings. Half of her sample had taught themselves to read by the time they entered school, and some had learned as early as two years of age. Goertzel and Goertzel 9) report that half of the 300 eminent individuals in their study learned to read well before school-age.

Unbounded curiosity is still another sign of giftedness. In a study, curiosity was surpassed only by memory in the frequency with which it was observed by parents of gifted children. Parents also remarked about the quality of children’s questions, describing them as “very complex” and “probing.” A one-year-old gifted child made the discovery that everything had a name and dragged her mother all over the house for hours, pointing to every object and saying, “Whatsat?” Some children pull things apart to find out how they operate. Other children ask endless questions. Still others have difficulty going to sleep at night for fear that they will “miss something” while they sleep.

Gifted children learn things very rapidly and are often able to generalize their learning to new situations 10). They are amazing problem-solvers. They show evidences of abstract thinking at a very young age. They also have highly active imaginations and are likely to invent imaginary companions 11). This is a sign of creativity and should not be a cause of alarm to parents.

Another clear sign of giftedness is exceptional aptitude for mathematical reasoning. There are cases of five-year-old children solving square-root problems on calculators, inventing abstract algebraic formulations [e.g., (N x N) – 1 = (N +1) x (N-1)], learning algebra, adding four-digit numbers mentally, writing simple computer programs, or using calculations in their everyday lives. Since most preschool children are still learning how to count, these feats speak for themselves.

An excellent sense of humor characterizes gifted children. They learn earlier than most other children that humor is based on incongruity, the unexpected or absurd. They also develop an early interest in and facility with puns. One two-year-old was playing under the bed where his mother was lying. He said to her, “Mommy, are you resting?” When she replied, “Yes, “ he retorted, “Does that mean I’m under a rest?” Incidents such as this one should be recorded. Making a booklet of a child’s jokes is a way of encouraging language and cognitive development.

Certain personality traits of the gifted child may appear early in life: perfectionism, emotional sensitivity, compassion, intensity. One-fourth of the sample studied were described by their parents as “highly sensitive,” meaning both easily hurt and sensitive to the feelings of others. These two interpretations of sensitivity appear to be inter-related. Almost all of the children studied appeared to have signs of emotional overexcitability 12).

Personality characteristics differ markedly among the gifted 13). Some characteristics make the child easy to identify as gifted, whereas others mask the child’s special abilities. Since verbal precocity is such a frequent sign of giftedness, the highly verbal child is more likely to be recognized than the nonverbal child. Verbal ability is only one form of giftedness, however. Mathematically talented children, particularly boys, may not have high verbal ability 14). Artistically, mechanically, spatially, or athletically able children also may not show verbal precocity; nevertheless, they are gifted.

Shy children are likely to be overlooked as well. Gordon and Thomas 15) studied gifted kindergarten children of different temperaments. Outgoing children who plunged into new activities easily and quickly were thought to be gifted by their teachers, although in fact many of them were average. All of the gifted children who were slow to get involved in new activities were incorrectly judged to be average in intelligence. Roedell, Jackson, and Robinson 16) warn parents of the necessity of informing teachers that advanced intellectual skills are not always accompanied by outgoing temperaments.

Although signs of high ability are usually present in the child’s early years 17), many of the more subtle signs may go unnoticed. A child whose gifts go undetected will probably not receive the kinds of environmental stimulation necessary for early development. If this stimulation should occur later in life, the child is likely to be called a “late bloomer.” A late bloomer is a person with high potential who does not actualize that potential, or who is not discovered until later than would be expected.

When opportunities for development are limited to only those children who show early signs of ability or productivity, much potential is missed. Gallagher 18) reminds us that intelligence is not static; it is capable of both increasing and decreasing. It is important to provide continuous assessment throughout school in order to find those children whose talents do not manifest until later in life.

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