Signs of giftedness in toddlers

Updated April 17, 2017

On the National Association for Gifted Children website, Dr. Nancy Robertson advises against formal testing of preschoolers to determine if they are gifted, because it is costly and may not fully measure their abilities. Young children are unpredictable, easily distracted and affected by conditions such as hunger, fatigue and illness, which can affect their score. However, parents can informally assess toddlers for signs of giftedness by observing and evaluating their child's attitudes, talents and skills in a range of areas, and by comparing them with normal developmental milestones. Gifted toddlers show attributes well in advance of expected age-related learning outcomes.

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Gifted toddlers have sharp memories. They frequently ask questions, learn easily and with little need for repetition. They are often sensitive and purposeful, and show signs of perfectionism, says Dr. Anna Lombroso on the Mind Works website. They may need fewer hours of sleep than the 10 to 12 hours that toddlers normally require. Gifted toddlers are highly motivated and curious, and have keen observational skills. They may seem unusually active and energetic. However, while hyperactive toddlers have a short attention span, gifted toddlers concentrate intensely and do not flit from one activity to the next without finishing tasks. Gifted toddlers may display a "heightened sense of morality or justice" and a "highly developed sense of humour," says Lombroso.

Language Development

Early language development, including use of a vocabulary that is larger than average, and advanced verbal reasoning skills, are signs of giftedness in toddlers. By the age of 2, they may know and use vocabulary that exceeds the approximate 50-word vocabulary count that is usual for this age group. They may begin to use two-and-three word phrases, and speak in sentences earlier than the usual age of 2 to 3. About 25 per cent of toddlers who have highly gifted language skills may know the entire alphabet by the age of 17 to 24 months, according to the British National Association for Gifted Children, or NAGCBritain.

Creative Development

Gifted toddlers may draw pictures that are more sophisticated than the simple mark-making squiggles that toddlers usually present as part of their normal development. For example, toddlers who are gifted in drawing skills may draw a circular face with recognisable and accurately positioned eyes, nose, mouth and ears by age 2. According to the Baby Center website, gifted toddlers have vivid imaginations, and often create a network of imaginary friends. "Some gifted children find pretend play far more fulfilling than playing with peers who may not understand them," says Dr. Kaur Sandhu on the Brainy Child website. Gifted toddlers display surprising creative thinking and problem-solving skills and steadfast determination when they meet a new challenge, such as an unfamiliar and more intricate puzzle.

Mathematical Skills

Gifted toddlers may recognise colours and play with shape sorters before the age of 15 months. They may also rote count to at least 10, and recognise some specific numbers before the age of 2. Toddlers who demonstrate highly gifted mathematical skills can usually accurately count small sets of objects before the age of 3, according to the NAGCBritain. Toddlers who demonstrate profoundly gifted math skills may understand skip counting, counting backwards, practical addition and subtraction concepts and concepts of more and less by the age of 2.

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About the Author

Mother of three and graduate of the London Metropolitan University, Julie Vickers is an early years teacher and writer who also loves to craft and create! She writes on topics such as education, health and parenting for websites such as School Explained and has contributed learning sessions on child development and behavior for the Education Information and Learning Services website.