When our oldest son was three-years-old, he was obsessed with all things nature. Many of his conversations revolved around animals and he loved nothing more than to curl up with an animal book or nature documentary. During the day, his play centered around the animal world. He would pretend to be a ring-tailed lemur, meerkat, or an endangered condor. He would assign animals to his baby sister.
“Today you are a komodo dragon!” he’d declare with a mischievious grin.
This was our normal, and it was only when we were out in public that we would realize it was not normal for everyone else. Our little guy’s big vocabulary and fund of knowledge would draw stares and spark awkward conversations.
There was the time my 3-year-old explained defense mechanisms to an awe-struck elderly woman in a checkout line after she had asked how his day was going. Another time, at a restaurant, he informed our server that cuttlefish often change gender for mating purposes. And then there was the time we were at a playdate and he decided to liven up the potty humor by adding the words feces, scat, dung, manure, droppings, and guano.
He was three… and a very asynchronous three at that!
Asynchronous children are many ages at once
One of the hallmarks of giftedness is asynchronous development. While most children develop in a relatively uniform way, gifted children are asynchronous in their development and the more gifted the child, the more asynchronous that child may be. This can result in large gaps between a child’s physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development and functioning. A gifted child can have the intellect of an adult with the emotions of a child.
This asynchrony is most pronounced in the early years. It can prompt head scratches, odd looks, and judgment-laced conversations with strangers.
Asynchronous development can also impact relationships with age-mates. Gifted children are often said to have social issues, and I believe that many of these challenges are related in part to asynchronous development.
Asynchronous kids can have difficulty relating to same-aged peers
When I think about our son’s asynchrony as it relates to his same-aged peers, I always come back to the portcullis story:
I remember that morning as if it had happened yesterday. We were just leaving the restaurant, where we had enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with friends. I had met these women when we’d had our first babies, at a mothers’ group sponsored by the hospital where we had delivered. Those first babies were now 5-years-old and each had at least one younger sibling.
We held the door for one another and shuffled our tribe carefully out of the restaurant and into the parking lot. The kids were busy fooling around, and their laughter filled the air until one voice shouted above the rest. I knew that voice very well: it was my 5-year-old son.
“Hey! GUYS!! LOOK!! LOOK!!!!Doesn’t that latticework remind you of a portcullis? It’s SO BEAUTIFUL!”
He was jumping up and down, bursting with excitement, pointing toward the restaurant’s garden and trellis.
His friends paused for a moment, looked in the general vicinity of where he was pointing for a moment, and then carried on with their play. I, too, looked at the trellis and then I grabbed my phone and Googled portcullis.
Relying on Google was becoming a necessity, as our son was getting far more information from his books than from his parents. It turns out that a portcullis is a heavy iron gate, often found in medieval castles, that could be lowered for protection during an enemy attack. Our son was right, as usual: The latticework did resemble a portcullis and it was beautiful.
I turned from my phone to my son, who was still staring with awe at the beauty of the garden trellis, and then I looked at his friends, who had continued with their play while their moms chatted nearby. My heart did a little flip-flop. That flip-flop, like Google, was happening more often these days, too. Sure, these kids were kind and accepting of him now, at 5-years-old, but would it always be like this? The gap between our son and his peers was growing before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it.
I knew, right then and there, that our son was going to need some Portcullis Peeps, kids who understood his language.
Gifted children need intellectual peers
The portcullis story is a perfect example of the divide that happens with gifted children and their age-mates. How can I expect my son’s peers to understand and connect with him if his own mother doesn’t always understand him? No child was going have the ability, nor the time, to Google his words as I do.
My son has wonderful same-age friends. I am fortunate in that he has yet to encounter many struggles. Still, I am not naive to think it will always be this way. His vocabulary, fund of knowledge, thoughts, worries, and even his play scenarios are not typical for an 8-year-old. This is why I have worked hard to find intellectual peers for our son.
The first time I witnessed my son with an intellectual peer, I got chills… and so did the other child’s mother. The connection was immediate, the conversation was fascinating, and the smiles were gigantic. It made me determined to find more intellectual peers for him.
It can be challenging to find intellectual peers for your child. Public school classrooms and extracurricular activities are most often grouped by age. I am thankful that homeschooling allows for more freedom in this area. Our family has had great luck with multi-age activities and classes. My son has been taking a multi-age art course for that past several years. It is amazing to watch him learn and grow in that setting. He is thriving and mature and happy.
These kids need intellectual peers. Here are three tips for finding them:
- One word: Google.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Thank goodness for Google! I don’t know what parents of gifted learners did before the internet. Google has not only helped me to answer my children’s many questions, but it has connected me with a wealth of resources for gifted families.
- Find a community.
I realize this is easier said than done, but believe me they are out there! If Google doesn’t work, search MeetUp or post on gifted sites and listservs.
- If you can’t find a community, grow your own.
I’m a huge introvert. I didn’t want to start a gifted group in my area, but there was a need. I took a deep breath and did it. If you build it, they will come. And come they did. I’m proud of the community I am growing in the Granite State. In fact, it has blessed my geeky life so much that a friend and I decided to create an online community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children.
Are you parenting an asynchronous child, too?
If you are the parent of a gifted, asynchronous child, please know this: You are not alone. Here are some tips from a mom who is right there in the trenches with you:
- Read up on asynchronous development to gain a deeper understanding of your child and his or her unique needs. This will also help you, and others, to adjust and manage expectations as they relate to your child.
- Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your child’s education. You know your child best so go with your gut. Do not be afraid to choose non-traditional paths if they feel right.
- Know that gifted children need intellectual peers. Your child needs those Portcullis Peeps in order to feel understood and whole. Find them, they are out there. If you cannot find them, create a group of your own and I promise you they will come.
- Help your child navigate his or her asynchrony. Yes, it can be extremely challenging to parent and educate an asynchronous child, but stop for a moment and imagine what it must feel like to be that child. Talk about strengths and weaknesses, teach coping skills, and don’t be afraid to seek help when necessary. It takes a village.
Looking to build those social-emotional skills?
Here are some posts that might help:
10 Ways to Foster Emotional Intelligence at Home
Big-Hearted and Brilliant: Service Ideas That Flex Empathy Muscles and Expand Young Minds
Are you navigating social issues with your asynchronous child?
Be sure to check out these related posts:
Now, it’s your turn. Tell me: Is your asynchronous child struggling with social issues? What has helped? Share here!
This post is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page August 2016 Blog Hop: Gifted Social Issues. Please click the image below to keep on hopping!
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram