The Dreaded G-Word: When Your Child is Asynchronous

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gifted, 2e, giftedness, gifted learner, education, parenting, homeschool, homeschooling
Image Source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

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, Leo.

“Hey! GUYS!! LOOK!! LOOK!!!! Doesn’t that latticework remind you of a portcullis? It’s SO BEAUTIFUL!” Leo shouted. He was jumping up and down, bursting with excitement, pointing toward the restaurant’s garden.

His friends paused for a moment, looked in the general vicinity of where he was pointing for a second or two, and then carried on with their play. I, too, looked at the trellis and then I grabbed my phone and Googled portcullis.

Image source: Pixabay

Relying on Google was becoming a common occurrence these days, as Leo was getting far more information from his books than from his mother. 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. Leo 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 toward his friends, who had continued to goof around while their moms chatted nearby. My heart did a little flip-flop. That flip-flop, like Google, was happening more often these days, too.

How could I expect Leo’s peers to understand and connect with him if his own mother didn’t always understand him? Sure these kids were kind and accepting of him now, at 5-years-old, but would it always be like this? The gap between Leo and his peers was growing before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do about it. No child was going have the ability, nor the time, to Google his words as I had been doing. He was going to need some Portcullis Peeps, kids who understood his language.

The Dreaded G-Word

This is where I should stop and tell you that, just a few short months after that portcullis morning, we learned that my son is gifted.

The dreaded g-word: Gifted.

It’s kind of an awful word, is it not? It conjures images of beautifully wrapped gifts with neatly tied bows. It implies you have been given something, something better, something neat and clean and… well… easy.

As the parent of a profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional child, I can tell you that our gifted reality does not resemble that beautiful, neatly-wrapped package.

Our reality is messier.

It is exciting and scary and fun and hard and uncertain. It is fraught with ups and downs and twists and turns. Above all, it is riddled with misconceptions. Because of these misconceptions, no one likes to use the dreaded G-word and that makes it incredibly hard to find Portcullis Peeps for my son.

Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Our reality: Giftedness as Asynchrony

There are so many gifted myths floating around out there, from the well-behaved straight-A student to the hot-housing Tiger Mom to gifted education as elitist. I wish that the public had a deeper understanding of the reality of giftedness. My favorite definition of giftedness is this one from the Columbus Group, which talks about giftedness as asynchrony:

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991)

Asynchrony! That’s our gifted reality. 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. Their little minds can harbor thoughts that their emotions cannot yet process.

Asynchronous Kids Are Many Ages at Once

Put simply: Gifted children are many ages at once. 

Take my son, for example. I want you to meet Leo:

Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
Image source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Leo is now 7 1/2-years-old.

He looks like your typical 7-year-old.

He has the intellect of someone more than twice his age.

His academic skills are all over the road, but all are years above a 2nd-grade level.

He is twice-exceptional, which means that he is both gifted and learning disabled. He struggles with sensory processing disorder, he meets diagnostic criteria for ADHD, and there’s a dollop of anxiety thrown in there for good measure.

Emotionally, Leo often presents as younger than his seven years. His mind houses thoughts that his emotions cannot yet process and this can lead to meltdowns that are reminiscent of those trying toddler years.

My son is out-of-sync. We never know if we are going to get the 7 1/2-year-old Leo, or the teenage Leo, or the 4-year-old Leo. On any given day, we can have a conversation that leaves me in awe or a public meltdown that leaves me embarrassed. That doesn’t sound neatly wrapped, clean, or easy, does it?

Parenting Asynchronous Kids

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.

Our journey has been anything but neat and clean and easy. I love my son to the moon and back, but parenting and educating him has been the greatest challenge of my life. I have learned so much along the way, and the journey has only just begun.

Children are our wisest teachers.

(Thank goodness for Google!)

Are you the parent of an asynchronous child? Share your stories here!

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34 thoughts on “The Dreaded G-Word: When Your Child is Asynchronous

  1. Oh My goodness!! This is my 7 year old daughter. I don’t normally tout that she is “smart” or “gifted” because people think I am just being stuck up or bragging. My daughter is NOT easy, it is not a fun road. Keeping up with her is difficult, but she is still very much 7. Your post rang true and loud for me. It is not about bragging, it is not about being stuck up.. I don’t mind smart kiddos, all my children are smart, I have smart kids.. and one of them has been labeled “gifted”… but.. that is NOT what Button is.. She is different she is “more”. Thank you.

  2. THANK YOU FOR THIS. This is my seven year old daughter in a nutshell. She intellectually functions as an adult, but emotionally she functions around age 3. It’s a huge gap, and a challenge for me, but I love her just the way she is. She still has crazy meltdowns because of her older intellectual age and younger emotional age which sometimes draws criticism and dirty looks…but I’m parenting the child I have, not the child people think I should have.

  3. My 13 year old was always two years behind socially and many years ahead academically. Luckily he’s always been at a Montessori school which has meant he can learn at his own pace, as far ahead as he wants to go, while being in a mixed age classroom. More often than not, his friends have been younger (when he’s had friends). After persistent trouble at school with both organization and social skills, we finally decided to have an evaluation with the school’s psychologist. I had resisted because I was afraid of him getting labeled, but once we got the results, there was a tremendous amount of relief and validation. His IQ was super high like we figured and all of his behavioral challenges put him in the ADHD category. Which we pretty much already knew. The testing helped us to help him and already two months into the school year, he’s doing great. Even has been invited to a couple of parties. In his spare time he’s working on another idea for a novel and a solution to the world’s energy crisis. The other piece is that him knowing himself is super important so he doesn’t feel messed up or plain weird. He isn’t like other kids which is true. He’s like himself.

  4. Given what I’ve recently learned, I suspect “that their emotions cannot yet process” is a symptom. A symptom that left unattended can stay long term, which may end them up being adults who are crippled by their emotions ( and anxiety )

    As much as encouraging mental development is great, encouraging the exploration of emotional development is also important, to prevent developing harmful habits that persist.

    The natural instinct is to find things emotionally challenging, and flee them, resist them. But this instinct predisposes you to being hypersensitive, as avoiding the emotion programs you to avoid the emotion more in future, and makes you more vulnerable to the emotions.

    Instead, its better to confront, (albeit in small amounts) emotions and experiences that afflict one, such that one has experience in dealing with them, and being able to do so with a healthy support network is key to overcoming those emotional obstacles.

    Familiarity with these emotions builds a person up to be more capable of dealing with the situation, instead of doing what they’d prefer: coiling into a ball and avoiding them.

    1. I certainly agree that sensitivity a symptom of asynchronous development, and one that is quite common among this population. If it turns out that a child is avoiding experiences due to emotions – gifted or not- that child would benefit from counseling. For this population, in particular, it is important to find a counselor experienced with gifted and 2E individuals so as to avoid misdiagnosis. I highly encourage those in this situation to explore Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, SENG, GHF, and Davidson to find those counselors.

    2. your comment resonates strongly with me. i don’t know, clinically, if my 8yo son is the g-word. (i have a few data points from school and a bilingual cognition study, indicating he is very advanced in certain aspects of language cognition and pattern recognition, and he reads at a 6th grade level. he seems to collect encyclopedic information from books and, although he is only a middling guitarist and pianist, he composes at will. so he seems to fit the profile here.) anyway, i like what you said about being intentional about the emotional-social side; there is a tendency to pathologize the environment our children struggle in, instead of giving them tools to cope with — and ideally succeed — in it. my son attends a high-need urban equity public school. the school’s entire focus is on closing the achievement gap. a lot of kids are behaviorally disturbed. he has struggled to find friends (he has one in his grade and a couple older ones), but, much more impactual, he has struggled to understand his peers and respond accordingly (in a way that is healthful for him and safe for all). on paper, at his school, he is “successful” (also white and english-speaking and high-testing). but i could see how at risk he was of falling off the rails emotionally. thankfully, we have an excellent school social worker (bless you, title I federal funds for poor schools!) with two wonderful interns this year, and i have him meeting with her weekly to work on (a) coping with frustration in a safe way; and (b) getting along with people who aren’t your best friends, just to keep the peace and find commonality. the difference has been *extraordinary* (in his ability to cope with a school setting that is obviously not serving him that well). but here’s the (i hope) punch line: i feel in my gut that he has much, MUCH more to gain from staying in a system that isn’t a great fit and learning that he can cope/navigate/succeed/triumph/find the good in it, rather than absconding (and internalizing those feelings of failure and evasion). it’s not always easy, but he absolutely must learn to view the world and other people without judgment and with shades of gray; that is the real world. even though i have (dark) fantasies of him whiling away his time at a precious alt school with 11 kids like him, i can see that there is a great reward waiting at the end of this tunnel: social-emotional competence and an intact ego that can handle conflict. so…thank you for your comment.

  5. Thank you for writing this. My nine year old daughter is the g-word as well. It’s impossible to explain how she can score post highschool on tests but has trouble with emotions and anxiety. That she has more obscure knowledge than most adults but has a breakdown over a torn drawing. No there’s nothing wrong with her, she just has thoughts and understandings beyond her social ability to cope.

  6. This is a wonderful article, thank you for sharing! I have some thoughts:

    1.) I don’t think “gifted” is such a terrible word. Society has turned into something worse than it is, but if we go back a few generations, the word “gifted” was used in its original context: someone or something with a gift. In the case of our children, it’s an academic gift.

    2.) I get bothered that I cannot talk one iota about the matter with other-than-parents-of-gifted-children without sounding like I’m rubbing it in their face. I have many parent-friends who don’t want to hear about my son’s trouble with crowds or bullies because they know he’s a straight-A student in his 2-years-above-grade-level math class. They don’t realize that the other issues are real and need our attention…academically gifted does not equal having a perfect child. My son has this incredible go-to-bed routine and if we get it out of order or skip steps, he can’t sleep.

    3.) I appreciate your advice about finding peers for your gifted child. Our family made a big leap and did exactly that, competing our son for the local STEM middle/high school that isn’t near our house. It turned out to be one of the best things we could ever have done for our son, who now has a circle of friends just like him, he gets time in a “gifted advocacy” program where he learns to deal with the social struggles gifted children has, and he’s in every geeky club one can imagine (which don’t all exist at our nearby middle school): robotics, chess, Science Olympiad, and MathCounts! He loves school and enjoys his new friends.

    1. Thank you so much, Patricia. I agree with each of your points.

      Regarding the last one, isn’t it a shame that most of these kids have to wait until high school or beyond in order to access all of those geeky clubs? I wish more elementary and middle schools would offer enrichment opportunities for the asynchronous little ones. I think they would feel less out of place if they had a chance to dig their teeth into something they love.

      1. Our school district here in Colorado Springs is *pretty good* about that at the elementary school level. My youngest son (grade 5) is in the chess club and on the Rubik’s Cube team, but robotics clubs are few and far between. They also started up a Minecraft Club (where I believe they’re learning programming) and I was tickled that the demand was so positive for it…unfortunately, it also meant that my son couldn’t be in the club because they had a lottery to join and he didn’t make it.

        He’s also in an all-gifted, all-the-time classroom environment which has been amazing this year! It’s experimental, and I think he’s benefiting the most from the smaller class size (around 24 students instead of 30+).

        1. Ahhh, Colorado. Yes, I’ve heard very good things- and you have some phenomenal folks out there from Linda Silverman to Dan Peters. Here in NH there is next to nothing. I had to start up my own Destination Imagination team in order to have some of those needs met.

          Rubik’s Cube team sounds amazing!

        2. Hi Patricia, hope u don’t mind me jumping in…which Sch district are you in? Asynchronous development sounds like my son, who’s prob going to be given diagnosis of aspergers. We are also prob moving to Colorado Springs! So any advice/resources you can point me to, would be gratefully received. We are from the UK.

          1. Hi Hazel! Looking for a good district in Colorado Springs is tough — lots of pros/cons to each of the school districts. Our family lives in District 20, and I last year I served on the Gifted Parents Advisory Council, so I was privvy to some of the up-and-coming initiatives with both the SPD and TAG (Talented and Gifted) programs. My sons don’t have diagnoses for Aspergers so I’m not 100% familiar with the services provided there, but so far I’ve been happy with the TAG programs here.

  7. 60 years ago, I was that asynchronous child. No testing, no insights. Just accelerated through grades, placed willy-nilly into age groups where I was both too young physically, emotionally and too old educationally. I was a 10 year old in a class where girls tried makeup and boys fledged moustache hair. I was reading and calculating at post-grad level, and punished for reading a non-class book, even while I explained that I had read all the textbooks in the first week. What I was left with was a sense of displacement, a sense of injustice, and a deep-seated need to fight for fairness. Me voici, artist, economist,ESL mentor, activist, feminist, mother. It was a long road, populated by all the people who handed me opportunities, but didn’t understand that I was still my age, or less, emotionally. However, I am not sure I would trade those long ago struggles. Would I be as involved if I had not had to find myself?

    1. Inez, thank you so much for commenting and sharing your story. I love where you ended up. It reminds me of the famous Maya Angelou quote “wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now” – we need more advocates like you!

      1. Often the siblings aren’t considered. Older siblings are assumed to have failed if they are outstripped in grade by a younger. That also has an effect on family dynamics. On the plus side, strong work habits are often forged in those siblings in an effort to ‘make good’. So much so, that siblings have all held good, consistent careers, while I have job-skipped as my interest waned. (But I’ve had some great jobs!) I think I would have more focus , were I to present now as a reading, math-minded 4 year old. Social awkwardness might have been ameliorated, or perhaps not.

        1. Or, the opposite. The first is the squeaky wheel who is identified as gifted and, because the others are different, it is assumed that they are not gifted either when they actually are!

  8. My daughter will be 7 at the end of the month, in 2nd grade and is a sensory seeker. Thank you for your post. Sounds like she and Leo are very similar. What to do with these kids!? We have already started her early so she is with a class of peers that are months or even a whole year older than her. And yet she is not anything close to challenged. How much longer will she tolerate this before her SPD and IQ lead her to be disruptive in class? Then what? She needs the socialization of school so we have dismissed the idea of homeschooling… But what choice do we have? I will ride her happy little wave with her until it changes and then I guess we will just change courses with her.

    1. Megan,
      I hope you have a happy wave for a long time! These kids are all so different, you just never know what will happen. We ended up homeschooling and it was the right choice for our family. Unexpected, but a good fit for the moment. I try not to look more than a year ahead of time. He keeps me guessing 🙂

  9. When talking with my 9 year old little boy, sometimes it’s very easy to forget you’re not talking to an adult. He can say profound and wise things, and has the logic and argumentation skills of a lawyer. But he also struggles with SPD and possibly dysgraphia, and he struggles hard with handling his emotions. So sometimes it feels like I’m talking to a 4 year old. I really understand what you meant when you talked about his peers not understanding him – too often they either don’t understand his interests, his vocabulary, or his reluctance for rambunctious play (he can’t be around that much noise without wanting to curl into a little ball). Thanks for writing this. 🙂 We’re not alone.

  10. I have two of these, and they’re quite different from each other.

    The oldest is 15, can do college work academically and has had on and off access to it since he was 11-12. Elementary school was the hardest for him — he was light years ahead academically, but often not allowed to work ahead (the gifted program at his grade level was not enough), and he suffered some terrible attitude issues as a result. They got slowly better through middle school, and now that he’s in high school he’s a treat to deal with most of the time, and is very involved with extracurriculars and the like. So far 15 years old has been far easier to deal with than 7 years old was!! We’ve kept him with age-mates for social and emotional reasons. One of the harder things has been protecting him from some teachers who feel that because he is who he is, he should want to enter all their competitions and such. Yeah, it doesn’t work like that, sorry.

    The youngest is 12 and has a couple of LDs he masked for until we pushed testing in fifth grade. They’ve interfered with him getting access to the gifted curriculum (they won’t take you in the gifted program unless you pass their achievement-oriented tests without accommodations first even if you test as gifted when the school system gives you an IQ test in the process of diagnosing other issues). He had some behavior issues for a while associated with being expected to do things he just couldn’t compensate for without help. Socially, he gets along well with his classmates, though of course not perfectly.

    It’s not a perfect, neatly-wrapped package, but people aren’t perfect, neatly-wrapped packages. They’re messy, glorious, and frustrating, and you’re always going to be second-guessing yourself.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, crden! You aren’t the first to tell me that the teen years could be easier than where we are at right now. That is such a positive view and wonderful to hear, as a mom in the throes of asynchrony. Thank you.

  11. I WAS that kid. I wasn’t THAT much academically gifted– I was advanced and in the gifted program, but nobody ever considered skipping me grades. But man, reading this and the comments brought a lot of stuff flooding back– I remember WISHING sometimes that I could skip a grade becuse maybe those kids would understand me better, although even the kids in my own grade thought I was a baby, since I DID have trouble with emotions, and like Kent Fredric said above I’ve really had a lot of issues as an adult stemming from it! And there was one time when I was lamenting to my dad about not fitting in, and he admitted that they’d considered putting me in a special school and now he wondered if they should’ve, and I was all martyrously like No, no, I’m here now, I will CONQUER this, and it made me tear up just remembering this. As an adult I feel way more messed up and incapable than I feel like a genius. 😛

    My kid, Idon’t know if he counts as twice exceptional, but he’s got ADHD, and in the course of teacher conferences, when we discussed how he’s really smart and GETS lessons right away but then gets distracted and ends up within complete work, and I was having a lot of trouble getting the teacher to try something new, I mentioned the gifted program because maybe if he had more challenging work he’d focus better, but they said No, their gifted program is just enrichment, and if he’s not getting his basic work done they’re not going to give him MORE, and I’m thinking WELL GEE SO MUCH FOR INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PLANS. They don’t want to give him an IEP because he’s a B student and that’s good-average in general even if it’s underperforming for HIM. UGH.

    I admire your strength in homeschooling. I’d go that route if I was emotionally strong enough for it, but I can’t handle dealing with him/trying to keep him on task as it is, let alone all day every day when his schooling depends on it. 🙁

    1. Thank you for sharing your story, Amy! And my son was like yours in school. The school viewed him as the distractible, impulsive pain in the bum while they viewed me as That Parent for wanting more. When the needs of these kids are met, the focus improves. Sure, he’s still distractible and impulsive but it’s WORLDS better.

      Suprisingly, homeschooling is less stressful than school was for us. That’s not to say it would be that way for everyone, but it’s our story. I was dreading it, but he’s been so much happier.

  12. Hi Caitlin, I loved this post so much! Beautifully put, and so many great points and examples. Thank you.

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