Asynchronous Development

Another challenging aspect of raising high ability children is the asynchronous development they exhibit as they grow. While typical kids’ intellectual, physical, and emotional development progresses at comparable rates (e.g., an average kindergartener will have similar intellectual and physical abilities, as well as the emotional maturity, of his same-aged classmates), in high ability children we often find that development in these areas is out of sync and they do not progress at the same rate.

For this reason, high ability children may demonstrate characteristics of many differentiated children at once. While chronologically they are eight years old; they may display the intellectual maturity of a fifteen-year-old when explaining and analyzing a complex math problem. At the same time, however, they may be barely able to ride a bike or may write illegibly with the fine motor skills of a five-year-old.
Also, when asked to share a toy with a sibling, they may regress to the emotional maturity of a two-year-old.

It is this variability in behavior and perception that sometimes makes it difficult for high ability children to “fit in” with their surroundings, especially when so much of their environment is structured by chronological age— a benchmark for high ability children that may be the least relevant
to their development. In the social arena, it is often hard for high ability kids to relate to same-aged peers because they are often well beyond their non-high ability age-mates intellectually (yet may lag behind emotionally). Physical issues also arise, especially in boys, when their intellectual development outpaces their motor skills, and they can become frustrated by their body’s inability to keep up with what their mind wants it to do. Parents need to recognize that high ability kids’ social, emotional, and intellectual needs may not be satisfied by their same-aged peers and they will likely need opportunities to interact with other high ability children, older children, or even adults.

These asynchronous developments can have a direct impact in the classroom as high ability students are frequently faced with frustrating situations they don’t have the emotional maturity to handle. Children may act out when frustrated in school (for example, when they become bored from having to perform repetitive work they have already mastered), and they run the risk of being labeled a “behavior problem” if teachers don’t recognize the mismatch between intellectual ability and emotional development. We need to remember that advanced intellectual capacity is not necessarily synchronized with social or emotional maturity. The kindergartener who reads about black holes and the speed of light may be intellectually sophisticated, but the temper tantrums he throws should not be entirely unexpected because, after all, he is still only in kindergarten.