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Asynchronous Development

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: Hi! I am really distraught about my daughter. She is 4 and a half years old.

She started talking at a very early age. She is very articulate and talks in complete sentences with vocabularies which you will hardly hear coming from a regular 4 year old. She is very observant and points out so many things which you would ordinarily miss/ not pay attention to. She makes up a lot of words and is very interested in arts, animals and dinosaurs. She argues and reasons out in a very advanced way. Her memory also amazes a lot of people around her. Presently, she can remember things which occurred to her ever before the age of 2! She does very well in her pre-school with regards to her academic skills like math and language and reading.

My problem is her teacher says she is having difficulty making friends in school, participating in class activities; she defies her teacher's instructions and does not follow them. She also has difficulty cultivating relationships with her peers. Her teacher says she does not know how to play "in" the group but she knows however, how to play "with" the group. Whatever that means! Basically her teacher says she lacks the social skills to work cooperatively with her classmates etc. Her report card is so unbalanced with extreme good grades in academics but very poor marks with socialization and emotional development skills. Her teacher also says she has poor attention span except when she does her artworks.

Can you explain how this is so? I am not sure if she is gifted although we havenít really had her tested yet, one of our close friends who is a school guidance counselor said that she is gifted.

I am distraught as to how I can help her in the coming school year with regards to her social relationship issues. If she is indeed gifted, then how can I nurture her gifts? How do I find out which aspect she is gifted in? What activities can we participate in to help her develop her social skills faster to keep up with her intellectual abilities? Up till what age will this asynchronous development happen?

Please help me. I hope you can really find the time to answer my question even if it is so long. I live in the Philippines and our healthcare/medical/research system is years behind. I would appreciate it if you could enlighten me on this since I think her teacher may not recognize that she may be gifted that is why she is this way. I fear she may be branded as a spoiled child who cannot make it in the traditional educational system. Thank you!

A: She does exhibit signs of being gifted with your description; but she also appears to present some of the concerns that are attached to some gifted children. What needs to be understood here is that the reason she may be having difficulties with peers is possibly due to the uneven development (that you very clearly understood!). Asynchronous development, or uneven development, develops when advanced cognitive (intellectual) abilities and heightened intensity combine, and this combination create inner experiences and awareness that are in reality qualitatively different from the expected or the norm. As IQ increases, asynchrony intensifies, due to the greater discrepancy between the childís mental and chronological ages. This means that gifted children develop cognitively at a much faster pace than they would develop emotionally, socially and even physically. Now, this would surely pose some problems, as they appear to be different from the average child.

Your daughter probably has a mental age that is higher than that of her peers; therefore, they may find it difficult to relate to her as she is ahead. However, young children are unaware of this and expect everyone else to be like them. When a child is a little different (able to perform tasks that average children cannot), others may view this child as not the same as themselves and this may result in them shunning this child. In addition, gifted children may appear to be bossy due to their heightened sense of awareness and depth of knowledge, which may be seen as authoritative. These qualities may put them in a rather difficult position among their peers. She probably knows how to work better than her peers do and demands her way, which makes her, appear less cooperative (as her teacher noted). Her poor attention span is probably due to work given that she may not find meaningful and boring. She is obviously interested in artwork, hence her retained attention. When she does not find the given to her as engaging, it is natural for her to defy her teachers.

I can understand how frustrating and confusing this can be for parents because these children do not always act their chronological age. With advanced intellectual development, parents (and other adults) are led to expect more advanced behavior from these children, which may not be the case all the time (e.g., able to discuss a world issue using advanced vocabulary but unable to understand the concept of sharing a toy with younger sibling). This is because a gifted child who is years ahead of her/his peers is not always years ahead emotionally or socially. They are no better in managing emotions in comparison to any other child.

Unfortunately, this is how some children develop so little can be done to delay the development (and a bad idea as well). However, what can be done is for parents to be aware and understand such development. As a parent you need to recognize that your daughterís emotional and social development is not going to always match her intellectual development. So, before punishing her for emotional tantrums thrown, remind yourself that she is only four of five and you have to deal with it in a more age appropriate manner.

You will also need to understand that intellectual stimulation is essential for such children ad much as emotional attention. Allow her emotions to grow as anyone would for a young child regardless of her mental capacity. Just because she is mentally advanced does not mean she understands emotion as a older child would. She also may not get her intellectual, emotional, and social needs met by her age-mates. This means while she is able to socialize to a certain degree with her peers in school, you may also need to provide a platform for her to interact with other gifted children (if possible), older children, or even adults.

This is not going to be an easy journey but parent and teachers may need to get very creative in trying to help these children adjust especially when they are very young. Perhaps a combination of techniques may be employed, for e.g., doing more stimulating work in the classroom, moving children to a higher grade for some lessons, etc. Parents and teachers will also need to concentrate on their motor skills and help them fit in socially. Good luck!


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