We all have relative strengths and weaknesses – some things we can do better than others. Children who are developmentally advanced (in comparison with chronological peers) may have other areas of development that are not so advanced. This unevenness of development in gifted children is referred to as asynchrony. Linda Silverman, a psychologist and author, writes “there are children who progress through the intellectual milestones at a more rapid rate than their peers. The brighter they are, the more uneven their development is likely to be – intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally.”
Asynchrony means being out-of-synch. The term is used to refer to the discrepancy between different levels of development within a single child as well as the discrepancies that often exist between a gifted child and chronological peers. Although asynchrony occurs throughout life, it is noticeable in young gifted children who exhibit variation in different areas of development. This is most obvious when a young gifted child’s advanced intellectual skills are compared with their physical development. A child may be able to think, question and discuss issues at an advanced level but not yet be toilet-trained, able to dress themselves or use scissors. Children may be early readers but fine-motor coordination may not yet be developed sufficiently to draw with crayons or write.
Gifted children tend to be perceptive, sensitive and mature in their thinking; however a child with less ability to regulate emotions (often triggered by sensitivity) can exhibit behaviour that is perceived by adults as emotional immaturity. Heightened intellectual abilities, advanced knowledge and different interests are some of the reasons why gifted children tend to gravitate towards playing with older children and want to form friendships outside of chronological peer groups. Nancy Robinson, from the University of Washington, describes the social difficulties that such asynchrony creates: “The younger the children are, the more circumscribed is their social radius and the less likely they are to encounter truly compatible friends.”
Asynchrony can be accommodated within flexible families but in childcare facilities, especially those where children are placed in groups based upon chronological age or specific developmental milestones; the asynchronous gifted child presents a dilemma for staff because the child doesn’t fit within a certain age group or stage of development. The gifted child may be ready to play with more advanced toys and need to relate to older children but the staff to child ratio in the older children’s section may not allow for placement of a younger gifted child who is not yet toilet-trained, requires assistance with dressing and/or still experiences difficulties with emotional regulation. Just as a standard school curriculum and class arrangements do not necessarily fit the academic needs of older gifted children, regular childcare structures and provisions may not provide a good fit for the asynchronous gifted child.
There are several factors that facilitate appropriate provision for children with asynchronous development in childcare settings. These are: awareness; communication; understanding; expectations; a strength-based focus and flexibility. These apply as much to parents as they do to family daycare providers, the directors and staff of childcare facilities.
Awareness about giftedness and the issue of asynchrony will help all those involved with gifted children to understand that uneven development is the norm for these children. Communication between parents and childcare directors is essential to clarify the range of developmental levels and needs of the child. Parents often normalise a child’s behaviour as they may have not basis of comparison so it may be useful to use a questionnaire or checklist to have clear, factual information about the child prior to the child starting childcare.
Developing an understanding about different perspectives and expectations can be helpful in structuring provisions for the child. Parents need to understand that there are guidelines for appropriate levels of care and statutory requirements regarding staffing arrangements and childcare provisions. Childcare staff should listen to parents’ concerns and try to understand more about the individual child’s development, asynchrony and associated needs. Patterns of activity and sleep need to be discussed and consideration given to how energetic children who need more, less or no sleep through the day might be accommodated within the normal structure of the day at childcare.
It is important to focus upon the child’s strengths and provide opportunities for the child to be appropriately intellectually stimulated and socially engaged while at childcare. This may require a child to be placed with an older age group even if the child’s asynchrony means that not all developmental milestones expected for placement within that group have been achieved. Access to toys, equipment, books and activities that will stimulate a child may require some restructuring – even if it is for part of the day. Flexibility of provisions, structures and as a personal characteristic of staff is the most important factor in providing for asynchronous development in gifted children who attend childcare.
Michele Juratowitch is Director of Clearing Skies, provides counselling for gifted students of all ages and their parents. She provides advocacy and consultancy in schools; professional development for teachers; programs for students and workshops for parents. Michele was awarded a Churchill Fellowship, is co-author of Releasing the Brakes for High-Ability Learners and Make a Twist: Curriculum differentiation for gifted students.
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This article was published in Issue 6 of our print magazine, October/November 2014.