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Precocious Language Development

It may appear ridiculously premature to label a baby as “gifted” when less than a year old. But parents with older children who have been identified as gifted can often trace advanced behavior back to birth. Many describe prolonged eye contact and response to particular sounds immediately after birth. Some, like Ivy's parents, note precocious motor or language development.

“Ivy” is the sibling of children who have been tested and labeled profoundly gifted. Though she has not yet been formally assessed, her parents feel that she is most likely profoundly gifted as well. Here we will take a look at her early language development. For comparison, I have also included data from austega.com on average developmental milestones.

At four weeks old, Ivy's parents were surprised to hear her spontaneously saying words such as “hi” and “uh-oh!” By the time she was seven weeks old, she was reflectively saying “hello” or “hi”, and also calling out “Mama”, “love you”, and the name of her big brother. It wasn't clear whether Ivy knew what she was saying, until she was eight weeks old and she asked for “Mama” when she wanted her.

Several weeks later, Ivy saw her father walk into the room and she joyfully yelled, “Daddy!”. She was just three and a half months old. Most babies at this point are babbling and cooing, but not saying anything that sounds like actual words. It is interesting to note that Ivy not only was able to articulate the words, but that she also knew to use specific words to name particular people. According to austega's table of normal development, most babies say their first word just before they are eight months old. A baby who is 30 percent more advanced will say that first word at five and a half months of age.


When Ivy was four and a half months old, she used two full sentences regularly. The phrase, “love you” changed to, “I love you” and “Mama” was replaced by “I want Mama”. During the next two months Ivy seemed to spend most of her energy working on physical skills. She learned to sit unaided and also to crawl forward at five and a half months. She added only two new spoken words to her vocabulary, “up” and “water”. Both of these were used to communicate her desires, to be picked up or to have a drink of water.

At seven months old, Ivy would look at individual family members when she heard their names. She could call five different people by name. She waved hello and goodbye and used the ASL sign for dog when she saw a picture of one. When asked, “what does the doggie say?” she answered with a “woof!” She began to sign “all done” when finished eating.

Ivy was nine months old when she started “singing” the alphabet song. At first, she didn't use proper words or letters, but she was verbalizing, not humming, and captured the tune perfectly. Before she turned one, she was singing parts of the song with actual words and letters. Her mother would sing, “a, b, c...” and Ivy would jump in with “d, e, f, g” or her mother would sing, “h, i, j, k” and Ivy would respond with “l, m, n, o, p”. Also at nine months old, Ivy started to call herself by name.

Although Ivy's vocabulary was impressive for her age, her receptive language also appeared to be advanced. She seemed to understand everything said to her. At ten months old, Ivy easily followed two step commands such as, “Find the Ernie doll and give him to Nana.” She also had obvious preferences for certain books and toys, and she was very good at communicating through a combination of spoken words and ASL. She learned ASL from her mother and some baby sign board books. Her parents have a video of Ivy at this age, sitting in a highchair and turning the pages of one of these books one by one. On each page, she pauses and signs “dog”, “hat”, etc.

By her first birthday, Ivy was speaking in some short sentences and two or three word phrases, and had about ten ASL signs. Most children are not combining words until 21 months of age, and children who are 30 percent more advanced will do this at 14 months. Her mother recorded her vocabulary up until she hit 500 words and phrases and about 100 ASL signs. At this point, Ivy was 16 months old, and the words were coming too fast and furious to note. Her verbal skills were far outside the norm. Various sources point to 40 words as the average vocabulary of a 16 month old child.

Not every gifted child is an early talker, but I believe the majority of babies who speak early are gifted. Early language acquisition is a strong sign of intellectual advancement, often included in checklists of gifted behavior.










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