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Is my child bright?

  • Roxanne Cramer

Whether or not a child is gifted is a concern to many parents, judging by the letters received by Mensa's Gifted Youth Coordinators.

In preparation for a TV appearance in a brief slot titled How Can I Tell If My Child Is A Genius, I surveyed the parents of the students in the gifted center where I teach. Ours is one of 12 elementary centers in Fairfax County, Va., serving 100 students (IQ 140+) in grades 3 through 6. Over half of the parents responded to the question "How did you first become aware that your child was bright?" Most were aware that their child was different at an early age. Following are some of the things they noticed.

Language Development

Talking at an early age was the clue most parents remember. There was a minimum of baby talk, and frequently the children surprised the parents with their knowledge of big words that they could use correctly in sentences. They showed a fascination with words and reading, and many knew how to read before entering school, some as early as 2 or 3 years of age. This was not a deliberate teaching on the part of the parents; the children seemed to teach themselves and it often appears that they learned to read overnight, as if some code had been broken.


The children were curious about many things. They had to know how and why things worked, taking apart toys and appliances and (sometimes) putting them back together. They asked a million questions, not infrequently driving their parents up the wall with their need to know everything.


Parents reported examples of an unusually retentive memory. Many children had vivid recollections of very early childhood happenings. A number, on their own, memorized trivia, such as detailed sports statistics, the kings of England or every single word of their favorite stories.


To accompany the recall skills, most parents noted that their children learned early and easily, with little repetition. They exhibited an understanding of cause and effect, even before they could articulate it. They also had the unusual ability to relate new learning to things previously known and regularly transferred learning from one area to another. The questions they asked showed a grasp of complex concepts.


Older children were the preferred associates of many of the gifted youngsters. Some were reported as lonely, and some created imaginary playmates for companionship.

Other characteristics

Other characteristics include early awareness of environment, keen observation skills, “interest binges” such as two years of nothing but dinosaurs or a solid month of volcanoes, a fascination with numbers, an intuitive grasp of math concepts and, as soon as they could read, the ability to read upside down.

And then there are those…

Some parents reported having no idea their child was bright. New parents simply assumed all kids were like that, and those having other bright children in the family saw no difference for comparison. One child's best friend was also a very bright child of the same age, so neither mother was aware of anything unusual.

And some of these highly intelligent children did not walk or talk or do anything early that gave their parents a clue! So when we speak of ways parents can tell if their child is gifted, keep in mind that not every bright child will reveal early, and a few children who exhibit some of these characteristics turn out to be of average intelligence.