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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL with ASD and AS function successfully in the classroom. For example, for children with an intense interest in a specific topic, the interest can be used as a starting point for further learning. There is no reason to steer children away from topics that they find fascinating. For example, a child’s interest in horses can be used to encourage that child to learn more about how large-animal vet- erinarians care for horses. If the child is having trouble joining in social play with other children, that child could be encouraged to pretend to be a horse on the playground with other children. But Are They “Gifted”? Children who seem advanced in cognitive development may be described in a variety of ways. Family members and teachers might use words like “bright” or “smart.” In casual conversation, we might use words like “brainy” or even “quirky.” However, the question arises whether it is appropriate to use more formal terms or phrases, for instance, “gifted” or “academically talented” or even “genius” or “prodigy,” which tend to be used when describing older, school-age children. A look at the literature on the subject of gifted education shows that edu- cators and researchers rarely agree on a single definition of giftedness. Some prefer to use the term “talented” to generally describe a child with significant academic strengths who performs well in school. Others may use only specific criteria, such as intelligence tests, to define exactly which students are consid- ered gifted (Olszewski-Kubilius, Limburg-Weber, and Pfeiffer 2003). In early childhood education, most practitioners would agree that chil- dren five and under are too young to receive the label “gifted.” During these early years, children are growing and developing so rapidly that it’s just too soon to make predictions, either positive or negative, about a child’s future academic performance. When speaking with families about their children’s growth and progress, I recommend caution in using premature labels such as “gifted.” It’s far more important that we communicate to families that we know their children well, we recognize their talents and strengths, and we are prepared and willing to support and challenge their children to help them meet their full potential. Another reason why the term “gifted” is rarely used in the early childhood field is that practitioners are sensitive to the idea that intelligence, as we tend to define it in the United States, is a cultural construct based on test taking, pencil-and-paper tasks, and learning to read, add, and fill in the blank. These 14 | Chapter 1 COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL