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.
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.
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:
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!