The First Signs that a Child Has High Abilities

The first signs that a child has high abilities help us to detect and accompany their special needs. Learn more in today's article.
The First Signs that a Child Has High Abilities
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 13 December, 2022

Children with high abilities represent approximately 3% of the total child population, although the figure may be considerably higher depending on the sources consulted. Moreover, it’s estimated that the vast majority of them aren’t identified and don’t receive the school adjustments and family support they need to thrive. Therefore, we want to talk to you about the first signs that a child has high abilities so that you can identify them in your children.

High abilities are when a person presents a high performance in intellectual, creative, and/or artistic areas. Therefore, we’re not only talking about academic prodigies but about children who have a special talent or who excel in certain areas. These may range from sports to the arts or from memory to language.

High abilities are very heterogeneous and don’t manifest themselves in the same way in all children. However, there are some signs that can help parents to identify them.

These are the first signs that a child has high abilities

The first signs of high abilities appear during growth. Even in the first years of life, it’s already possible to identify some of them. In any case, a professional evaluation will always be necessary to complement the information provided by the parents with a battery of tests. Even so, these are the most relevant signs:

Language development

Although it doesn’t occur in all cases, early language development can be striking. Some children can pronounce their first words as early as six months, form sentences at the age of one and a half, and carry on conversations at two years of age. In addition, they often have a large and rich lexicon and can read fluently before the age of four.

A young child doing geometry.
Children with high abilities often have a good memory and can reason about complex topics easily at an early age.

Memory and reasoning

These children may have an excellent memory, especially when it comes to places and events. In addition, they understand and handle complex concepts with ease, enjoy posing and solving problems, and have a strong ability to do so. It’s also common for them to develop metacognition (awareness of their own thought processes) early on.

Curiosity and learning ability

Highly capable children are curious, open-minded, and very good learners. They may be interested in a wide range of subjects and become experts in some of them. They also enjoy reading and learning about the workings of the world around them and are very observant.

As a result, they may ask complex, far-reaching, or age-inappropriate questions that require knowing the answer. For example, they may ask early on about human reproduction, the genetic code, or the formation of the universe.

Social relationships

Regarding the social sphere, they tend to feel a preference for relating and interacting with people who are older than them. In part, this is because they share few interests or points of view with children their age. In other cases, they may adopt the role of leaders and try to direct the rest. But, if they perceive rejection by their peers, they may try to hide their talents or their differences in order to gain acceptance.

Also, it’s common for them to be rebellious and reluctant to accept orders and rules. They may defy authority and tend to impose their own criteria.

Attention

The reality regarding attention level when a child has high abilities can be very varied. There are children with high abilities who have a great capacity to focus and who are capable of becoming very absorbed when they learn or enjoy something they’re passionate about.

However, they may also seem absent-minded, bored, or disengaged when it comes to monotonous and repetitive tasks. This sometimes causes the diagnosis to be confused with ADHD, although the two can coexist.

A child putting together an electric toy car.
Some children with high abilities may have a high IQ or possess some outstanding ability in a specific area.

Talent in specific areas

It’s important to remember that the concept of high abilities includes giftedness, talent, and intellectual precocity. Therefore, it’s possible for some of these children to have a high IQ (above 130), but they may excel only in certain areas and remain average in the rest.

Therefore, we can consider as a sign the fact that the child has great intellectual potential, but also that they have an outstanding ability (sports, artistic, or mathematical, among others) or that they’ve reached some evolutionary milestones, such as the acquisition of speech or writing, earlier than expected.

Dyssynchronies

Among the first signs to indicate that a child has high abilities is asynchrony. This is the lack of concordance between their chronological age and their intellectual, social, and emotional development.

The child may have conversations more typical of an adult, but at the same time, shows the characteristic impulsivity of a child and deep and complex emotions that they don’t know how to manage. In a way, it seems like different ages coexist in them, depending on what aspects you’re looking at.

Personality and emotions

Finally, when observing the personality of these children, we’ll also find significant features. For example, they tend to be deep children with special sensitivity. Also, they can be self-critical and self-demanding, rigid and inflexible, and have a great fear of failure. In addition, it’s common for them to be frustrated by any lack of progress.

The importance of detecting the signs that a child has high abilities

The signs that a child has high abilities are a good indicator that can lead you to request a rigorous and personalized evaluation. Detecting this quality early is fundamental for adults to understand the child’s needs and to be able to accompany them appropriately.

If they’re not identified, not only may the child not receive the necessary stimulation to develop their potential, but they may also suffer problems at a social and emotional level. For this reason, it’s crucial to provide the tools that accompany their special needs as soon as possible, both at school and at home.

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  • García-Ron, A., & Sierra-Vázquez, J. (2011). Niños con altas capacidades intelectuales. Signos de alarma, perfil neuropsicológico y sus dificultades académicas. Anales de pediatría continuada9(1), 69-72.
  • López Andrada, B., Betrán Palacio, MT., López Medina, B,. & Chicharro Villalba, D. (2000). CIDE: Alumnos precoces, superdotados y de altas capacidades. Madrid: Centro de investigación y documentación educativa (CIDE). Disponible en: http://www.jmunozy.org/files/NEE/sobredotado/00820092000279-cide.pdf

The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.