I think my toddler is gifted - what now?

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 Photo: Getty Images

Kaliyah Taruvinga is 20 months old. At the age of one, she started developing a particular interest in – and flair for – drawing and writing. 

This passion has only increased with age, and her father, Prosper Taruvinga, believes it's a sign that she's gifted.

"Kaliyah has a unique way of holding the pen when she writes, and it's like she actually knows what she's doing," he says.

At 20 months, Kaliyah Taruvinga has a particular interest in art.
At 20 months, Kaliyah Taruvinga has a particular interest in art. Photo: Supplied

"When we take her to playgroups she doesn't want to play with the toys. All she looks for is the crayon stand and just starts drawing."

Taruvinga is nurturing his daughter's gift by sitting with her every day to write her name. He says that already she's copying the 'k' and the 'h' pretty closely.

"I'll be partly home-schooling so I'm going to make sure we continue to develop this, as I feel it's a gift that other kids her age don't have," he says.

"We'll keep encouraging her to learn to read and write, and she'll be light years ahead by the time she goes to kinder."

Being ahead of peers is something that Alan Haase's son, Rain, knows only too well.

"We knew Rain was different at around eight months old when he read his first word, 'cat', off the television," says Haase.

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"He was really interested in letters and numbers, and would fixate on the letter W and the number 10. Because of this, we brought him a periodic table and, at 11 months old, we brought him an iPad.

"From this he was able to teach himself how to read in Russian, count in 12 languages and write the alphabet of Greek, Russian, English, and Arabic."

Rain is now five and has skipped two grades. He has also been able to get into band 5 on most of the Year 3 Naplan, and can now recite pi to 460 decimal places. He recently came first in the Brisbane piano festival.

Rain Haase is 5 years old and has skipped two grades.
Rain Haase is 5 years old and has skipped two grades.  Photo: Supplied

Rain takes part in lessons in robotics, piano, UCMAS and more, and has play dates with friends who are between two to four years older.

"We know he may finish high school a few years early, and I believe it would be great for him to learn a trade while going to university part time or casually taking online courses until he figures out what he wants to do," says Haase.

"We don't believe in holding him back."

Clare Rowe is a child psychologist and director of Rowe & Associates. She says that some babies and toddlers do develop certain skills early, such as speech, motor skills and general awareness.

However, she notes that often these developments are not diagnostic or predictive of having a gifted child later in life.

"Often these early developers will 'even out' with everyone else come school age," she says.

Despite this, Rowe says that it's very common for parents to mistake early development as giftedness.

"Early development is a wonderful thing, and it's great watching your child grasp language and motor skills ahead of expected time periods," she says.

"However, all children develop different skills at a different rate and, just because your child is ahead of the pack at two years, doesn't mean that their development will continue at the same rate in future years."

So what would Rowe advise to parents who feel their baby or toddler is gifted?

"The best thing to do when you see your baby or toddler achieving milestones early is sit back and enjoy," she says.

"The most important thing at this stage is to let your child explore their world at a pace that suits them. There's absolutely no need to push children at this age simply on the premise that you suspect they may be gifted, as only time will tell."

Helen Dudeney, the principal consultant at the Australian Gifted Support Centre, says the centre mainly supports families with children of school age – but she does sometimes work with children around 18 months of age.

In this instance, she says the centre offers support to parents through counselling, seminars or workshops. 

"If the children are under four then I work with the parents, assisting them with strategies and helping them to understand the behaviours and characteristics they see," she says.

It's not until the age of four that the centre is able to conduct an IQ assessment and a comprehensive developmental assessment.

Unlike Rowe, Dudeney believes that early developmental milestones can be indicative of giftedness.

"Advanced language development and an understanding of the world beyond their years can sometimes be signs," she says.  "And sometimes these children are described as 'little professors', 'three going on 23' or an old soul."

She notes that, in her experience, other signs include an early interest in numbers and patterns, books and texts, and advanced manipulation skills with toys such as Duplo or Lego – with and without instructions.

Dudeney encourages parents of bright young children to not feel overwhelmed, and not to feel like they need to do lots to support their child.

"Parents often ring me asking about programs for their children as they don't want to 'waste their potential'," says Dudeney. 

"But the most important thing is to spend quality time with your child, give them space to explore their world, and particularly to make mistakes and learn from this," she says.

"Children have 13 years of structured programs ahead of them, so I don't believe we need to introduce these any earlier."