Monday, April 20, 2015
Gifted Babies: Where are the Resources?
Early Bird, being born two months premature, required occasional infant developmental assessments administered by professionals. They wanted to make sure by age 2 that he caught up with non-preemies his age. He did well enough in those; he tested about where he should be or maybe a month or two ahead, so everything was fine. The assessments stopped at age 2. Two months later, when Early Bird's gestational age was 2, he had a developmental/language explosion, and all of a sudden was talking completely understandably. A month later he surprised me by pointing out a letter and saying both its name and its sound. He had been watching Builder Boy play Starfall.com, and had picked it up. I have a video of not yet 2 1/2 Early Bird looking at flash cards with me and saying them in his little baby voice. (I only did the flash cards to see where he was. I did not do flash cards with him otherwise.) Super cute, but surely it was just from early exposure watching his older brother learn; it didn't mean much of anything. Okay, so he had an unusually long attention span, but that's just a second child advantage, right? I didn't do anything with his ability to "play" with letters accurately except for getting him a Word Builder toy (sadly, they've stopped making them.) It wasn't until he came to me reading an actual word that I realized something was different with this child. Most kids are not able to blend letter sounds into words before they are 3. This wasn't early exposure; this was a brain development ahead of the usual age. After I got over my panic, I did a lot of reading and research on giftedness, and I've been doing a lot of research ever since. Early Bird is 6 now, and I'm finally comfortable with his reading in front of other people. It was also in reading and learning about giftedness for Early Bird that I realized Builder Boy had giftedness traits, too. My research also gave me understanding about Early Bird's sensory issues, especially when it comes to eating, and Builder Boy's emotional overexcitabilities. And even more.
When Lady Bug came around, I really wasn't sure what to expect. An on schedule, "easy" baby like Builder Boy? An early bloomer like Early Bird who blossomed after he turned 2? Turns out, neither. Lady Bug was delayed enough in both spoon eating and crawling that she got a referral to a specialist for both. Of course, as soon as she had the eating assessment with the specialist, she swallowed just fine (when she never did it at home before.) And she went from no pre-crawling at all to a strange "crawl" dragging one leg between the appointment making and the actual appointment. (She was 11 months old at that point.) She didn't walk until she was around 14 months old.
But while her physical development lagged a bit behind "normal," her verbal development and communication skills were soaring. Around 14 months, when she was finally learning how to walk, she was also putting two words together, and picked up a bunch of two word phrases. A few months later she started making three word sentences, and has even strung up to five words together. Lady Bug often adds the article "a" before most nouns, and refers to herself as "I," among other things. She also started using more signs, saying and signing at 14 months. She exhibited high energy, dropped naps earlier than developmentally normal, required a lot of stimulation and heavy physical touch (like tight squeeze hugs over and over,) and started having noticeable learning SPIKES and plateaus. All together these point to being gifted, now that I know what to look for since I've been researching this for a few years. And once again, I panicked a bit. Early Bird at least waited until he was 2 years old before throwing me for a loop. Lady Bug only waited one year. What I am supposed to do with this talking baby?
At the suggestion of Care over at Homeschooling Hatters, I purchased The Everything Parent's Guide to Raising a Gifted Child. As soon as it arrived in the mail I turned to the part about babies; all three pages of it. And the three pages on toddlers. All basic stuff that any parenting book is going to tell you to do with your baby/toddler, like reminding you to read to them and play with them. Nothing specific, in my opinion, to gifted babies and their unique characteristics and needs. It was a huge let down, and to be honest it has discouraged me from buying any other book on the same topic.
Now I get that just about all parents think that their babies/toddlers are advanced, and it can be unrealistic to diagnose at such a young age. And as my other kids showed, giftedness isn't always obvious in the first two (or even more) years of a child's life. Is that why there were no specifics in the book? How about information on how to deal with the plateau stages when I'm doubting myself that what she's said in the past must have been me imagining things because she hasn't talked like that in a few weeks, and then she SPIKES and learns 20 signs in 2 days? How about giving me permission to not feel guilty for letting her watch the exact same Signing Time dvd 4 to 6 times in a row because she's obviously learning from it, and she keeps begging for it? When the book says not to let any child under 2 watch any tv, and makes absolutely no exceptions for this kind of learning intensity, I don't think the author is going to give me a pass on the guilt.
So what do I do? I do the only thing I can do. I ignore the people who say "just let them play" or "just let them be a kid" because what my baby is doing is playing; just with unusual "toys" for her age. I'm following her interests, I'm following her lead, and I'm trying to understand and anticipate her interests and needs so she doesn't get bored waiting for me to figure it all out. Two and a half months ago I bought the LeapFrog: Letter Factory dvd and the Fridge Phonics set. I put it out for her to play with if she wanted to; the boys ended up taking it over for a while. But two and a half months later, and at 20 months of age, she can tell you what ten different letters say. That I know of; I haven't exactly tested her on all of them. I'll probably get accused of hot-housing her, when really all I did was put on " 'oggy" when she asked and bought her a toy.
The only true resource I have found with specific information and support is other parents of gifted kids. Care's book recommendation may have been a bust for me, but her friendship and been-there-done-that and yup-my-kid-did-that-too has been invaluable to me. So my advice to you if you have read the information on characteristics of gifted kids and you think your baby or toddler fits those characteristics is to find another parent with gifted kids at least a little bit older than your current baby and bribe them with chocolate or wine or whatever their favorite is to have them on speed dial. And follow your child's lead, and try to trust your own instincts. No one knows your baby as well as you do.
This has been my contribution to the Gifted Homeschoolers' Forum's Gifted at Different Ages & Stages blog hop. For more blog posts from some of the best resources I've been able to find online, click here.
Do you know of a book about gifted babies/toddlers? Please share your recommendations in the comments!