Asynchronous or Uneven Development

In another article, you read a paragraph introduction about the important topic of uneven or asynchronous development. This topic plays a central role in the life of a gifted child and his or her family. This column provides additional explanation of the complex issue of asynchronous development.

The asynchronous or uneven development of the gifted child is often most notable to those who work closely with gifted children. The higher the level of giftedness, the more asynchronous the development can be. When six-year-old Bobby thinks like a nine-year-old, but throws tantrums like a four-year-old, some think that his parents "just need to get better control" over these outbursts. When Mary, the nine-year-old who can intellectually understand the forces of nature, lacks the emotional capacity to deal with catastrophes such as tornadoes and hurricanes, some suggest she has "serious psychological problems" that are best managed with medication. These are examples of uneven development. The impact this asynchrony has on one's life can be tremendous because a gifted child's intellectual, emotional, and social developments usually progress at different rates. While some are advanced, others are immature while still others are more age-appropriate.

This uneven development may make a youngster feel out of step with his peers. Twelve-year-old Stan's best friend was his sixty-something neighbor with whom he frequently played chess. For him, this "peer" was suitable in that particular intellectual arena. Although Stan had age-peers with whom he played football, went to school, and shared "typical" childhood experiences, they did not provide the intellectual challenge that he desired and ultimately received while playing chess with his neighbor. Stan clearly shows that finding appropriate "peers" regardless of age is important.

The asynchronous development of the gifted child is often evident very early in the child's school career, if not before. Whether it is because of behavioral difficulties or precocious academic development, many parents have talked about their child's first day at preschool or kindergarten. Often, the teacher contacted them within the first week reporting that their child's behavior was unusual for one or more reasons. They may have a high energy level and have difficulty sitting still or the child's curiosity may not allow the teacher to move on to a new topic. She may continue asking questions that are unrelated to the topic, or she is told to let others answer some questions "for a change." The slow pace of school, even in the early grades, can frustrate a quick learner while other children are satisfied with the pace or volume of information.

School problems can and do arise because of a gifted child's precocious and uneven development. Most gifted children learn to read earlier than other children, and some parents of elementary students have reported that their children were able to read long before entering kindergarten. Although many parents are accused of applying "parental pressure" to teach a child to read, this is often not the case because many gifted children teach themselves to read with limited input from parents. Still, parents are met with questions and comments by other parents as well as teachers. Sometimes, parents hear, "Putting this much pressure on a child so young, teaching a child to read at such a young age, can only result in negative consequences" or "She'll just be out of step with others her age." When interactions like this happen, frustration mounts for both the parent and the gifted child.

On the other hand, gifted children are sometimes expected to act their "mental age" rather than their chronological age. Their uneven development prevents this. Although they may think like a twelve-year-old, they are not always going to act like a twelve-year-old and should not be expected to do so. In fact, gifted children, as much as all other children, need time to be children. However, this does not mean that their intellectual needs are ignored. It is a difficult balance to maintain when you have the mind of an adult but the emotional capacity of a child.

As a parent of a gifted child, it is important to:

  • Be aware of your gifted child's uneven development and the special needs that result. While social maturity may be age-appropriate, intellectual development may be years ahead of a child's chronological age.
  • Teach your gifted child to handle frustration by modeling good coping skills and taking mistakes in stride. Identify characteristics that are unique to yourself and show your child how to accept his or hers in the same way that you have accepted yours.
  • Promote an environment that meets the educational, social, emotional, and intellectual needs of gifted children.
  • Value your children for who they are, not for who (or what, in some cases) they are not. Provide opportunities for a child to spend time with other children of similar interests and abilities to help them feel accepted for who they are.
  • Remember that all adults involved should have the same goals for your child-positive achievement, continuous academic progress, and appropriate behavior. Develop an alliance with the teacher(s), being supportive rather than adversarial or confrontational so that you can share effective home strategies and educate others about gifted children. Anticipate difficulties, meet with teachers ahead of time, and communicate regularly with the school.
  • If you think that your child will benefit from some type of academic acceleration in school, talk with his or her regular classroom teacher or the gifted/talented teacher. Discuss educational options, both in and out of the regular classroom, that are available to your child. In many cases, teachers are open to ways to meet a child's need because they know all children learn at different paces. Nurturing a child's giftedness is necessary for development.