Tips to Help Parents Tell If They Have a Gifted Baby

Teenage girl holding baby boy, close up.
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A common misunderstanding about gifted children is that their giftedness does not become apparent until after they start school. Gifted traits, however, can be recognized in toddlers. If you know what to look for you can also recognize gifted characteristics in infants!

Characteristics of Giftedness in Infants

  • Extremely alert or always looking around
  • Needs less sleep than most other babies
  • Needs almost constant stimulation when awake
  • May begin to mimic sounds earlier than other babies
  • Tend to be exceptionally sensitive to sounds, smells, textures, tastes and may cry vigorously in response to unpleasant or strong ones. (These are early signs of Dabrowski's "supersensitivities.")

A baby does not have to have each of these signs in order to be gifted, but many babies who turn out to be gifted children will usually display more than one.

Need for Mental Stimulation

Another sign of giftedness in infants is a need for mental stimulation. It is not unusual for gifted babies to get quite fussy when they do not get that stimulation. The fussiness can end with crying.

Parents of these infants can get extremely frustrated because nothing seems to work to get the baby to stop fussing and crying. The baby has been fed and diapers don't need changing. The parents are sometimes certain that the baby is colicky. However, the baby can be calmed and made happy simply by providing a change of scenery.

Infants can't move on their own, so all they can see is what is in front of them. If they get tired of looking at what is in their viewable range, they can get upset. This goes double for gifted children.

How do we know these babies are getting upset from lack of stimulation? There are a couple of ways we can tell.

For example, these infants will quite often stop fussing and crying when they are turned around to face a different direction or are provided something different to look at. Parents of gifted children often note that when their children were babies, they would have to move them as often as every 20 minutes in order to stop their crying.

Infant Studies

Another way to know that these infants require mental stimulation is from studies that have been done with babies. Dr. Hillary Hettinger Steiner and Dr. Martha Carr report on a number of infant studies that looked at two things: "habituation" and "preference for novelty."

In "habituation" studies, researchers measure how quickly infants will look away from some stimulus, like a picture or a toy. In "preference for novelty" studies, researchers will show babies two forms of stimuli, a familiar and an unfamiliar (or novel) one, and then observe how often the babies look at each one.

These studies found that some babies became "habituated" to a stimulus more quickly than other babies did, which means they looked away from it sooner. In the same way, some babies showed a preference for an unfamiliar (novel) stimulus over a familiar one, one they were already used to looking at.

When these babies became 8-year-old children, they were given IQ tests. Children who tested as gifted on the IQ tests were the babies who looked away from objects more quickly than the other babies. They were also the babies who preferred unfamiliar over familiar objects.

What these studies seem to indicate is that giftedness is not simply the result of providing an enriching environment at home, but that gifted children are born with a need for mental stimulation. In short, giftedness may have a genetic link.

Steiner, H. H. & Carr, M. (2003). "Cognitive Development in Gifted Children: Toward a More Precise Understanding of Emerging Differences in Intelligence." Educational Psychology Review. 15, 215-246.