"How do they work, Mum?" The entire train carriage fell silent as we passed the huge power station chimneys. A four-year-old child's squeaky and too-loud voice asked a perfectly normal question. Except that child was mine and worse, I didn't know the answer. I mumbled something about putting coal in to make electricity, but I wasn't convincing.
"But how does it do that?"
"I'll tell you later. How about we read this book?"
Three hours later, as we gathered our luggage the man sitting opposite, trying to work on his laptop, queried, "Does he ever stop talking?"
I smiled weakly. "No".
A typical train journey with an untypical child.
Wherever we went, he'd observe and want to know more than I could tell him about anything and everything. At seven he was more at ease discussing topics with adults than with his peers. He taught himself how to use a computer very early on. Add to this his habit of saying, "I was reading this in The Times today," and I began to wonder if all children behaved like this and I simply didn't know.
It wasn't easy. As well as the insatiable curiosity there was an inability to sleep until late at night, "Because I keep thinking about things, Mum" .
He would also respond with absolute logic and a huge vocabulary to argue about almost anything. I had to remind myself that although he was taking me on like an adult, emotionally he was a child. I'd allow myself to be drawn into arguments instead of giving a "Because I say so", response.
I later discovered, after an assessment by an educational psychologist, that my son was gifted.
But what does "gifted" mean? There is no single definition. An IQ test used to be, and still is in some cases, the yardstick used to measure giftedness, or potential.
The National Association for Gifted Children no longer uses the term "gifted" but High Learning Potential (HLP). The Department for Education and Skills (DFES) defines high ability as the top five per cent. My son's verbal ability was in the top one per cent and non verbal top two per cent. The DFES acknowledges that one child in every 20 could be considered to have HLP.
So how does the NAGC suggest you determine whether a child has HLP?
• The distinguishing feature shared by all High Learning Potential children is asynchronous development. Asynchronous development is the process whereby the intellect develops faster and further than other attributes such as social, emotional and physical development.
• High Learning Potential children enjoy learning at a much faster pace.
• HLP children can process information to a much greater depth.
• HLP children can be quite intense at times!
• HLP children enjoy friendships with others who share their interests and learning style. This is most likely to occur with intellectual age peers, regardless of chronological age.
It's tempting to assume that the HLP child is the one who achieves high grades, and who finds school easy. Not so. Many HLP children are undiagnosed by teachers. As a result of boredom they can become withdrawn, misbehave, and lose motivation. HLP children often work quickly and their teacher tells them to, "Do some more questions" which can be confusing. "Why?" they ask.
The NAGC describes it like this: "HLP children often think in the abstract and with such complexity that they may need help with study and test taking skills. They can often justify all the answers in a multiple choice question, or skip reading test instructions because they are impatient; again resulting in underachievement."
So how do you spot if your toddler or primary school child has HLP?
Professor Joan Freedman, a psychologist who is renowned for her work on gifted children, and author of several books on the subject including