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How can I tell if an infant is developmentally advanced?

For example, in a 10 month old baby boy: he likes to play the piano and drum; he is always making sounds or noises with his mouth or toys all the time'  he looks concentrated when listening to music; he moves his arms as if he's dancing without any reason; if he wants something he will pursue it relentlessly; he hs a tantrum just for few seconds if he can't touch my iPad/iPhone or the TV remote control; he throws toys on the table/floor just to watch how they fall and sound; and he will bother us until we share our food with him. He shows signs of separation anxiety. He is already starting to walk independently.

Are there certain actions at certain ages that indicate that an infant is developmentally advanced? If so, does early acquisition of skills in infancy have any bearing on gifting later in life?

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Our baby is 5 months old and has most of these symptoms. And she can also knock down towers of blocks that I build. What you describe sounds pretty normal, though I am no expert –  Dave Clarke Jul 11 '12 at 7:02
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@Dave: Yeah, mine is also able to knock down towers! Makes me reflect on the overwhelming power of entropy, every time it happens ;-) –  Treb Jul 11 '12 at 7:50
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All sounds pretty normal, Brandon. –  Rory Alsop Jul 11 '12 at 8:04
    
I think the original version of the question is better than the most recent edit. –  amcnabb Jul 11 '12 at 15:28

4 Answers 4

According to Raising Happiness, identifying your child as "gifted" early in life is not a recipe for success or happiness. Children who develop a growth mindset are happier and more successful than children who develop a goal oriented mindset.

The issue is that children who are praised for their accomplishments rather than their effort develop fear of failure, they don't want to try new things because they are afraid of not being able to do them. So regardless of whether your child is gifted or not, your approach should be the same: Praise them for effort and focus on growth rather than accomplishment.

What this means if your child is particularly gifted is that they will go through new challenges more quickly and it will be harder for you to keep them motivated by finding tasks that are more difficult. What it means if they are below average at some things is that you'll have to focus on keeping them motivated on tasks that are very difficult for them.

The entire question of whether gifted children become gifted adults is open to debate. Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Blink", was a gifted runner as a child, but as an adult was simply average. According to him--and according to most available research--the defining difference between good and great is practice.

So whether your child is gifted or not, the best way for them to take advantage of the gifts they have is practice, practice, practice. And the worst way to encourage them to practice is to tell them that they have special gifts that make them better, faster, or smarter than their peers.

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Based upon justkt's response, unless your child is doing something extremely advanced as an infant, you're not going to be able to determine if your child is truly "gifted" until he is much older.

According to this article on infant development from the Mayo Clinic, things like separation anxiety are an expected development anywhere from 10-12 months. Other developmental charts like this one point out that 10-month-olds like to mimic their parents which would explain wanting to interact with the TV remote, iPhone, or iPad if he sees you with them, and responding with a slight tantrum if he isn't allowed to do so.

It's important to remember that developmental milestones are a continuum and can vary extensively from child to child. Just because a child walks at 10 or 11 months doesn't necessarily mean they're gifted (and while it's exciting when your child first starts walking, you quickly realize that they become a lot more work once they start walking. I walked at 6 1/2 months much to my mother's chagrin.). While your child might be hitting some milestones early, there are probably some others that he hasn't quite reached yet. My son said his first words around 9 months old and was speaking in complete sentences well before most kids his age, but he was one of the last kids in his class to learn how to jump. Go figure.

Certainly encourage and challenge your son, but it's probably not necessary to saddle him with the label of "gifted" at this point. As many people who are gifted (or have been identified as gifted) will tell you, it can be a blessing and a curse and right now your son just needs to make it through his first year as a happy, healthy infant.

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My son didnt start walking until he was almost 12 months, didn't start talking until a couple months after "normal" children were talking. He is now 12 and I am constantly told how much more advanced he is in sports than other kids from current and former NFL players, he is doing BMX tricks that I couldn't do until I was 18 (I rode in the X-Games), he wins national awards for academics. I wasn't worried that he started slow and you shouldn't jump the gun placing children in private "gifted" schools, but definitely encourage his desire to learn! –  BillyNair Jul 13 '12 at 0:19

Child development is amazing to witness, but the sense of awe doesn't depend on competitiveness. It's natural to be proud of skills that your child develops, but it's unnecessary to compare with other children.

Books and articles on child development categorize milestones into areas like physical growth, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, language skills, social skills, and cognitive skills. Children develop these skills in their own ways and at different paces. It's perfectly normal for one child to be slightly more advanced in one area and slightly less advanced in another, but the important thing is that they're making steady progress. Your doctor may give you a questionnaire to look out for any problems.

I think it helps to realize that at this age, a child doesn't seem very advanced when compared with an adult. We aren't impressed that an adult can climb stairs. :) Once the child is older, they will develop skills that are impressive in an absolute sense, but for now, enjoy the advancements that are amazing relative to where the child was a week ago. Competitive comparison detracts from enjoying the process of child development.

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This paper indicates that it is possible that children can show giftedness shortly after birth by:

early alertness, response to caretakers, advanced motor control, early development of intentionality or unusual attention span

In that same paper is a summary of a study where parents of gifted children were asked to retroactively identify early signs of giftedness.

The most frequent signs of giftedness found in this study included long attention span, excellent memory, early and extensive vocabulary development, curiosity, early reading ability, rapidity of learning, and the ability to generalize concepts. Other studies have revealed additional characteristics: imaginary companions, high activity levels, less need for sleep, ambidexterity, unusual responsiveness to caretakers, allergies, sense of humor, sensitivity, perfectionism, concern with morality and justice, preference for older playmates, and fascination with books.

The most interesting thing about the paper is the "maybe, but maybe not" aspect of most of the signs listed. Maybe your extremely verbal infant is gifted, but maybe your silent infant is like Einstein and will start speaking in complete sentances at age 4. Maybe your early walker is gifted, but maybe he or she is simply one of the non-gifted early walkers.

Here is another summary of a study on gifted children that retroactively looked at the signs of giftedness they displayed as infants and toddlers:

94% were very alert as infants.

94% had a long attention span as an infant or toddler.

91% showed early language development.

60% showed early motor skill development.

48.9% were ambidextrous at some period of their development.

37% had imaginary playmates.

The mean age at which these children spoke their first word was 9 months.

The mean age at which the children sight-read an easy reader was before 4. (Rogers & Silverman, 1997)

This site has a long list of the signs of a young gifted child, although many are applicable to the toddler and preschool stages rather than the infant stage.

The specific 10 month old described has some signs of giftedness, and it certainly would not hurt to expose him to as many challenges as he is interested in. However it appears that the signs of giftedness expressed in infancy are at best inconclusive guides, and signs in the toddler and preschool years are more definitive. Even if any given infant does not meet some external criteria for "gifted," that child should be given a chance to learn and grow to the best of his or her abilities.

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