Early Identification

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Early Identification Article

How Can I Know If My Child Is Gifted? Source: NAGC

As you will read throughout the articles and links on our Web site, the term “gifted” has many meanings. Most frequently when this question is asked, parents want to know if their child is “really” gifted because she or he is soaking up information like a sponge, and is curious, focused, and unusually enterprising about learning. While there are several ways to assess a child’s abilities and behaviors, the gold standard to determine high cognitive abilities has traditionally been through formal assessment. Formal assessment is the use of an intelligence and/or achievement test. Informal assessment, far less expensive and time consuming, includes observations of the child in a variety of situations with a checklist of gifted behaviors for comparison.

Testing Preschoolers

Parents can find many conflicting viewpoints about formal testing of preschoolers. For example, some experts argue against routine early testing. Nancy Robinson, Ph.D. from the University of Washington, wrote, “Testing is never warranted unless it will make a difference in a student’s life. Virtually unique to gifted children is the well-meaning advice often given to parents: ‘Your child is so smart that you ought to have her tested.’ In the absence of any other referral question, testing simply to obtain a score is unwise. The effort is costly, and, even more importantly, a lower-than-expected score runs the risk of disappointing parents and affecting their view of their child. This is particularly risky for very young children for whom there are no significant educational decisions pending, and whose scores are likely to be less stable than those obtained later on.”

Intelligence tests are designed not to give false positives. In other words, a child will not receive a higher score than reflects his/her ability. On the other hand, for many reasons, a very young child’s abilities may not be fully measured, resulting in a relatively low score. When a very young child is being tested, it is hard to plan ahead for the many unforeseen circumstances that might affect the evaluation. Test scores of young children may be unstable, even in the short run, because they can be affected by hunger, fatigue, illness, anxiety, or environmental distractions.

Under irregular conditions – such as a formal testing scenario – even very bright young children can become irritable and uncooperative. The resulting test score may not be an accurate indicator.

Informal Assessment

Parents will often spot giftedness in their children, particularly if they are around other children the same age, or are familiar with normal developmental milestones. However many parents are not sure “how different is different.” There are several lists that can help parents feel assured that their observations are valid. For example, look through this short list developed by Dorothy Sisk:

  • Early use of advanced vocabulary
  • Keen observation and curiosity
  • Retention from varied sources of information
  • Periods of intense concentration
  • Ability to understand complex concepts, perceive relationships, and think abstractly
  • A broad and changing spectrum of interests
  • Strong critical thinking skills and self-criticism
  • Early demonstration of talents in music, art, athletics, and/or the performing arts

Other informal assessments and checklists can be a good window into a child’s development. Click here to read more in our Informal Assessments and Checklists section of the Web site.

More Information

You’ll find descriptions of 89 highly intelligent children, some as young as infants and toddlers in the book, Losing our minds: Gifted children left behind  by D. Ruf (2005). Great Potential Press.