Asynchronous Development and Parenting Struggles

Asynchronous development is possibly the most difficult part of parenting a gifted child. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, it basically means that a child’s development is uneven, causing them to be “many ages” at once and is sometimes considered to be one of the cornerstones of giftedness. (This article on NAGC’s website gives a good definition.) For me, asynchronous development is a bigger pain in my butt than:

  • finding appropriate activities and extracurricular classes
  • finding appropriate reading materials
  • staying awake in the morning after being kept up until midnight by a kiddo’s overactive brain that “can’t sleep” (and then dealing with my own!)

Yes, asynchronous development is behind at least two of these issues but it goes so much deeper than that. I’ve written about my struggles with asynchronous development as a parent before and I often joke about how unnecessary it is for me to have another child since I got a four-in-one deal, but I wanted to take a moment to revisit it. 

There’s a meme that makes the rounds every so often that I’m sure you’ve seen. It’s message can be summed up as saying that it doesn’t matter if you’re good at things, it matters more that you can control your emotions. And while I understand and agree with the sentiment behind it, I think it’s misguided. Many gifted children may struggle to control their emotions and in my experience, asynchronous development is at least partially to blame.

We as adults have expectations of the children in our lives, whether we realize it or not. And a lot of times gifted children fail to meet them. Whether it’s the three year old who uses ten dollar words not being able to share or a teenager who is doing advanced chem but lacking what seems like common sense, we tend to scold them with “You’re so smart. You know better!” While our frustration is understandable, it puts a lot of unneccesary pressure on them.

We’re the ones who need to understand that just because they are academically able to argue with adults doesn’t mean that they’re prepared (mentally or emotionally) to be treated like one. Every young person thinks that they have all the answers but sometimes adults get tricked into thinking that gifted kids actually do have them.  They very well might in some areas, but that should never extend to everything blindly. When in doubt, I personally err on the side of giving my child the patience, empathy, and understanding that would be granted to any other kid his age, and if he does know better, well we talk about that too but with the understanding that maybe there was more at play than knowledge alone.

While gifted children often possess the logic of a much older person, it’s impossible for them to have the life experience. They may seem immature in programs compared to their peers simply because they haven’t had as much exposure to classroom settings. They may have difficulty coping with life events that while they understand mentally, they don’t yet have the coping skills for emotionally. And while they logically may be able to make good decisions, they don’t have enough experience with their own feelings in order to make the right ones for them all of the time. All of those things come with practice, but because gifted children hardly seem to need practice, they sometimes don’t get the extra assistance that they need. 

Asynchronous development is something that I struggle with every day as a parent. Is his tantrum an age appropriate reaction that I need to help him through, or is he acting out for the sake of it? Is he taking ten hours to put on his shoes because he’s six and my priorities aren’t his priorities, or am I lowering my expectations too far? How do I teach him that sarcasm may not be the best approach for making friends until he’s a lot older? As of now, my husband and I are taking it on a case by case basis, asking ourselves which of our four children we’re dealing with at that moment and trying to act accordingly. It’s a balancing act. We don’t always get it right, but no parent does. 

So for now I try to soothe my whiplash by reassuring myself that it’s all just part of parenting a gifted child. I remind myself that this is why I put little stock into milestones personally. And I try to make sure that I’m giving my child all of the things that all of his different ages need in a day: a bit of silliness, a bit of mental stimulation, a bit of independence, and a lot of love. 

I think that’s probably a good recipe for any child.

I am not a teacher, psychologist, or expert in giftedness. Just the mom of a gifted child and a former gifted child myself, sharing my experiences. This post is a part of GHF Learners’ October theme, asynchronous development. You can find out more about GHF Learners here.

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What is gifted anyway?

There I was, sitting across from the private school’s principal, conscious of the fact that I look more like a sixteen year old than a parent. I tried to keep a smile on my face, calm and cool and collected; not letting my crazy spill onto the desk in front of me. I had told her my son’s backstory, or as much as I felt was necessary to share with a complete stranger. Yet I felt myself jolted by her words when she said, laughing, “What is gifted anyway?”

I get it. Gifted kids are seen at best as anti-social nerds, and at worst, more for their overbearing parents than anything they’ve ever earned themselves. They are seen as “special” and “elite”: dirty words in this day and age. Everything in life will be so easy for them. And yet these parents have the gall to ask for more for them?

And here was an educator repeating my worst thoughts back at me. Even with test scores in my hands I suddenly felt like an imposter. Like a special snowflake mom wanting to take services from struggling children in order to give them to my child who already has “so much.” To be fair, she meant it in the way that their program adapts to the child, but don’t all kids deserve to come home having learned something that day?

So what is gifted? Gifted is sitting down with your child’s Junior Kindergarten teachers and being told that your 4 year old is welcome to stay in the program, but that they just can’t accommodate his advanced learning. That they’ll try to prevent his downward spiral, but it’s inevitable if he stays there. It’s visiting private schools (that you could never afford) who refuse to accelerate because their programs go a bit beyond public school curriculum. It’s calling every school board in your province and wanting to cry every time they say they offer a gifted program with “depth and breadth” but eventually admit there’s no real acceleration. It’s deciding to homeschool because your smiling, carefree, child is riddled with anxiety and suddenly refuses to read because “other kids don’t read.”

Gifted is being faced with the fact that your child will never be normal. Sure, normal is overrated, but they may never get to do that school pageant, or maybe even go to prom. It’s watching them try to engage their friends in a discussion of their favourite thing in the world and seeing it dawn on them that they’re different. It’s every milestone being met with panic instead of pride, because you’re not supposed to be able to do that yet.

It’s lonely. As a parent, you’ll be accused of hothousing when the reality is you’re so exhausted by the never ending questions that come at all hours of the day and night, that you prop your kid in bed beside you with Cosmos or Periodic Videos on the TV because it’s the only thing he’ll watch long enough for you to get a 20 minute nap. It’s asking, begging, pleading, for help and getting laughed at. Being told to just let your kid be a kid. And beating yourself up because you’re the one who offers to play dress up, but your child would rather you help them with their latest math equation. And what kind of a parent tells their kid to stop reading anyway? Even if you are already a half hour late.

Gifted is your child’s educational needs not being met because of handwriting. Or age appropriate behaviour. It’s being told school is just for socialization anyway, yet how much socialization is happening at a desk for 8 hours a day? It’s having your child’s special needs completely disregarded because he’s somehow perceived as “better,” even though you would never pit two children against each other in such a ridiculous way. Gifted isn’t a fast track to success. It isn’t always classic book smart and it isn’t an angel child who is always perfectly behaved. Oftentimes, it’s the opposite.

But gifted is something else, too. It’s seeing the joy in the simple pleasure of a book. It’s finding the magic of science and math. It’s marvelling at questions from a preschooler that most adults wouldn’t think to ask. It’s people coming out of the woodwork where you least expect it to lend a hand. It’s treasuring the people that get it without you having to explain it. For all of the hard, the gift is being touched when you find the good.

But you probably didn’t want to hear about all of that. So how about this: gifted is a neurological difference characterized by advanced cognitive ability. It is considered a special need. So how about we stop denying these children the basic services that any other child with special needs deserves and ensure they get it too. It isn’t either or. Shouldn’t it be all?

 

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Asynchrony, you’re killing me

Oh Asynchrony, you’re going to be the death of me! Whenever I get frustrated throughout the day, you’re almost always behind it. Every time I ask myself “WHY?!” there you are, whispering in my ear in your stupid sing-song voice.

What is asynchrony you ask? It’s a fancy word for “out-of-sync.” It basically sums up my life as a parent. My kiddo is lightyears ahead intellectually, but emotionally he’s 4. One minute, he’s telling me about right angles and the next he’s throwing a tantrum over having to put on his own socks. I like to say I have 4 kids between the ages of 2 and 20 all rolled into one. And it gives me whiplash trying to figure out which kid I’m dealing with at any minute. And sometimes it’s more than one! Like when he read the cover of I am Malala and I had to come up with a way of explaining the Taliban and women’s rights to a preschooler who simultaneously understands on an intellectual level but on an emotional level does not have the life experience to understand that bad things happen to good people. Talk about horrifying. My nerves are fried!

It’s impossible as a mom to know how to navigate each situation we’re confronted with. Every time we reach an impasse I ask myself “is this a reasonable expectation to have of him?” Because yeah, it’s not a reasonable expectation when you want your 4 year old to practice reading James and the Giant Peach aloud; but for him, it is. He can do it. And it’s my job to help him understand that he can do it. But is it a reasonable expectation to ask a 4 year old to not cry when he’s disappointed that his day didn’t go as planned? Well, I don’t freaking know?? Because emotional regulation falls under the 4 year old stuff and I have no gauge to know what 4 is like. All I can do is try to help him learn an appropriate response and coping skills and try to walk the line between being too hard on my kid and too easy on him. It’s exhausting.

It’s one of those things that you start looking for expert advice about. You know, the dreaded milestones. Theoretically, milestones are awesome checkpoints that help you discern if your parenting is on track. The only problem is not all children fit the checkpoints. Sure, the average child does the majority of the time. But what the fuck is the average child? No child is going to fit all of the milestones, even if their name is John Smith and they live in the family with 2.2 children and a station wagon in the 1950s. Kids are these crazy wild creatures that like to scare us to death. They sure as heck aren’t going to give us any kind of reassurance like succumbing to the almighty milestone checklist. So thanks, expert advice, but you’ve been useless here.

Okay, I shouldn’t say that completely. There are plenty of experts that have been a huge help to me. Experts that deal in gifted kiddos seem to hit the nail on the head. But the problem is, most children aren’t identified as gifted until as late as 3rd grade, the belief being that “all kids level out by 3rd grade.” I could write an entire blog post about my grievances with that one, let me tell you. And profoundly gifted is to gifted as gifted is to average. It’s a huge range. So, as far as I know anyway, there isn’t a “raising baby the gifted way” parenting book I can read while we navigate these rocky early years. I mean, I get it. There probably shouldn’t be a gifted baby book because even as someone who believes that these kids’ intelligence shows up scary early in some cases, I feel like it would be so completely abused by people who don’t understand that gifted doesn’t mean smart. It doesn’t mean successful. It doesn’t mean rich and powerful and right all the time. It just means a brain that works differently.

So what’s the problem with asynchrony? Well, how do you handle a child who:

Can hold intelligent conversations about the periodic table but doesn’t understand that you need to close your eyes to sleep?

Can explain that he needs to borrow instead of using negative numbers when doing subtraction but can’t remember which shoe goes on which foot?

Watches Periodic Videos and Crash Course Chemistry but cries when iPad time is up?

Can type a story with proper spelling and punctuation but can’t print legibly?

It’s frustrating as all hell. I look at this crazy intelligent kiddo and have to constantly remind myself he’s only 4. And I have to figure out the appropriate way to parent him. And sometimes, I know I get it wrong. I’m too hard or too soft and all I want to do is get it right!  And I can’t look to anyone for guidance. It has to be a balancing act within our own family. Which in some ways, is kind of a blessing.

So if you see me forcing my kiddo to do something that’s completely unnatural for a 4 year old, please don’t judge me. And I promise to do the same. Let’s be honest though, we’re both probably way too busy with our own shit to worry about what the other is doing.

And asynchrony, you confuse me, cause self doubt in my parenting skills, and exhaust every ounce of brain power I have. But I wouldn’t change you for a thing because you give us some good laughs sometimes.

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This is what advocacy looks like


As parents, it’s our job to look out for our kids. Not so that life is easy for them, but so that it is just. So that they can get the things that they need to grow up and be happy, healthy, and successful. I don’t mean win a Nobel Prize or make six or seven figures a year, I mean normal-human-being-successful: being able to meet their basic needs and a few wants without killing themselves for it, and not hating themselves (and others) along the way.

I think it’s safe to say that most parents can relate to this. We speak up when our kids are struggling, we adjust plans when they aren’t working, and we shout with pride when they’re doing well. But when you’re raising a child who isn’t “average,” you find yourself on an intense journey. I didn’t know this at first, and couldn’t figure out why parenting was so difficult. But as I’ve learned and become more comfortable in my position as advocate, I’m learning that this is the norm for parents with kids like mine. Apparently, you can’t just read the baby books and keep your fingers crossed. You are constantly questioning yourself, trying to figure out what’s right and then fight for it. It’s like being back in college and the final is tomorrow AND it’s worth 100% of your grade. Talk about stressful.

Late nights.

I am almost always up later than I should be because I get wrapped up in panic at the end of the day. I feel guilty that I didn’t do as much as I could have, or a new question arises, and my brain won’t relax until I solve the problem. Although in most cases, the problem isn’t solvable. So then I sit for a bit and panic about that. On top of that, there isn’t much time during the day to sit and read academic papers, so it’s got to happen before bed.

So. Much. Reading.

I would be a professional student if it paid better. I enjoy learning and reading. But a lot of this stuff is boring AF. I am so lucky I took a bunch of psychology courses with the hopes of a double major (no, I don’t have one, I got lazy) so I at least have some understanding about what I’m reading. Unfortunately, what I did learn about IQ testing and giftedness was about a paragraph in one textbook so there is more that I don’t understand than I do. I sit and I highlight, and bookmark, and print out everything that I think I might need in the next few months. That seems small, but honestly I have no idea where we may be next week, let alone a few months from now. And I like to be prepared.

Reaching out for help.

I hate asking for help. Hate it with a passion. I grew up with “if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” and I agree whole heartedly! The only problem is that it’s impossible to do everything on your own. I mean sure, technically I could go back to school and get a BSc in chem but OMG guys, I have zero desire for that. And I definitely don’t have the time or money. So I am learning to ask for help even when it makes me look like a psycho.

Which brings me to:

Looking like a crazy person.

No matter how deserving my kid is of the things I’m asking, it doesn’t mean that people automatically understand or believe me. I don’t know how many people smile and nod politely when my husband and I say our son can read, and then come back to us saying “he can read read!” Umm. Yeah. This isn’t CVC reading. This is put a college textbook in front of him and he’ll figure it out reading. For over a year now. I get it, it sounds crazy. But for once it would be sooo nice for someone to take our word for it and help him out.

Having to cheer quietly.

When my son was first born, I was totally the mom posting pictures of “look he held up his head!” and his first bite of banana. When he first started reading, I thought it was adorable, so I posted a few things, but they got sparser. Now, I find myself questioning which of the things my son does are appropriate to share, and try to use humour when I do. When people compliment him to my face, I freeze. I feel awkward. I’m terrified they’re going to launch into an attack on how there is no way he should be doing what he’s doing. I don’t know why, because we’ve had an enormous amount of support from our friends and family, but it’s just a feeling that’s there. Not to mention that a lot of times it makes other parents worried if my kid is doing something that theirs isn’t, and that is an awful feeling. I don’t want anyone to worry! But I do want to be able to brag about my son, just a little bit. Isn’t that a mom’s right??! And then there’s always the flip days where I’m all, it’s better to just be confident, and then I am pretty sure I come across as a complete douche. If this happens, I’m sorry! I’m still trying to find the right volume level.

The fear of failure.

Profoundly gifted children are at risk for dropping out of school. I don’t have a link for that because it has been drilled into my brain from every article I’ve ever read about them. Why on earth would they drop out when it comes so easily for them? Because it comes so easily for them! People thrive on an appropriate amount of challenge. Children are programmed for learning. There’s a misconception that if you leave these kids alone they’ll be just fine. Best case scenario: they do okay but never reach their own potential and struggle with that knowledge when they’re older, and the world misses out on whatever greatness they could have offered us and themselves. I don’t want that for my son. I want him to work hard for what he has, learn from his mistakes, and use what he’s been given to its greatest potential. How he uses his gifts is up to him. But I don’t want them stolen from him before he’s able to make a decision on how he wants to use them.

Tomorrow, my husband and I are heading to one final meeting with the school. We have an IQ test and achievement testing. I have a number of articles printed with relevant passages highlighted. But still, I know there is no way we are going to get what my son needs: the freedom to move through school at the rapid fire pace he needs. I have such high hopes for this meeting that I already purchased a math curriculum for January. My husband and I are pretty set on homeschooling at least until “grade 1,” whatever that looks like for our son, and this meeting is really just a Hail Mary.

I am so excited to start our new adventure, but I have one issue that I keep revisiting. Whenever you opt out of a system, you lose out on the opportunity to change it. And while I know my son will be taken care of, what about the kids who aren’t? The ones who get left behind because their giftedness doesn’t look like “gifted” or who don’t have parents who are capable of fighting for them or pulling them out altogether? I won’t let my son suffer, but I do hope that I can find a way to help them too.

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When everyone’s an expert but you

Like every other excited  mom-to-be since the 80s, one of the first things I did when I found out I was pregnant was buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting. And then I promptly vomited. (Metaphorically.) And when that was done, I did what every modern mom-to-be does, and signed up for Babycenter. Because you are failing at motherhood if you can’t match the appropriately sized fruit to your unborn fetus. It’s a miracle any child survived before we figured this out.

It was all fun and games until my kid was born. “WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING??!” I would ask my husband frantically. “I DON’T KNOW,” he’d yell back, “IT’S WHAT YOU READ IN THAT STUPID BOOK!”

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There. Fixed that.

This carried on for a solid year and a half. We’d consult the baby books only to have everything blow up in our faces. Milestones were usually wrong. Calming strategies were always wrong. And tips that were meant to save sanity? Well, who had time for those? We were just trying to survive.

I’ll never forget the Scientist’s 6 week checkup. He was in his infant car seat on the floor, the cover pulled off, and my husband and I were sitting in the chairs trying to look like good parents who had everything under control and had definitely slept for more than 60 consecutive minutes in the past three weeks. I thought we were doing pretty good until the doctor stood back while staring at the baby, moved her head back and forth a bit and asked, “Is he always like this? So alert?”

“Yes!” We cried, finally feeling validated. Something was wrong with him. She was going to give us the magical cure that took this super alert baby and turned him into one that slept like, well, a baby.

“Wow. Is he usually happy like this?”

“Well, yeah,” we admitted. “He just likes to watch.”

“Cool.”

She sat down to type a note in the computer and told us when we were due back for a regular checkup. No miracle solution. No “keep an eye out for…” Just “enjoy not sleeping!”

And yes, I’m wise enough to know that no parent gets sleep. Sleep is a four letter word in the parenting world. It’s a known fact that if a mother doesn’t throw a chair at your head when you ask “how’s the baby sleeping?” it’s because she’s too exhausted and physically weak to even finish fantasizing about it, let alone see it through. But this felt abnormal. We had a bed time routine. We prioritized sleep. We got blackout curtains. Used white noise. Blah blah blah blah blah. In short, we did everything the experts said to do. They were liars. And I wanted blood.

Unfortunately for my vengeance, one day it dawned on us. It wasn’t the experts, it was our kid. He wasn’t a regularly developing infant. In a day and age where the worst thing you can be is a parent who acts like your kid is a “special snowflake” we had missed all the signs. And they were big, huge neon ones that everyone saw but us. It was more than a party trick that our one year old could flip through a baby sign language board book and teach himself new signs. It was more than a little abnormal for him to recognize words like “zoo” and “hop” and “hat” and “dog” when he was still learning to say those words. When he started sounding out words around his 2nd Birthday and reading PD Eastman and Dr Seuss beginner books, we realized our kid was umm, a little snowflakey.

But still, experts say not to teach your kid too much. It’s all about play based learning. So we’d cave and let him pick out the educational toy at the store, but then we’d balance it with a healthy dose of picking boogers and brainwashing in front of the TV. Because you want your kid to be normal.

But see, he never asked for toys. He wanted flash cards. Math workbooks meant for kindergarteners and first graders. Anything that had numbers on it. That was his fun! So eventually, we stopped listening to the experts. If he thought it was fun to spell all day, seeing that he was eating and getting outside and exercising, what did it matter?

We started to encourage his interests a little more. Getting him to do addition with toy cars was a win win. Play and learning. The librarian would find out about his latest obsession and point out some great books for him to borrow. He became obsessed with space, so I took him to a local stargazing night. That lead to him learning about these things called elements and the periodic table. And then our life spiralled out of control (in a really amazing, unbelievable kind of way).

I’ve had to find a new kind of expert. An expert that can explain my kid’s intense emotions and behaviours. One that can explain why learning is the same thing as breathing to him. I’ve finally realized that sometimes our kids are different. Heck, mostly kids ARE different. And most importantly, that you have to weigh all of that expert advice with your gut.

So tonight, out of some morbid curiousity, I signed into my Babycenter account. What kind of fruit should he be the size of this week? (I’m kidding. Everyone knows you can’t compare 3 year olds with fruit. You use storm classifications.) Anyways, after talking about how it’s the perfect time to introduce my kid to what letter his name starts with, (which is age appropriate for sure, just not something we’ve talked about since before his first birthday.) I was greeted with this:

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The thing is, we’re having our kid tested soon. We’ve reached the point where he’s so far outside of the norm that we really do need an expert’s advice. If he wasn’t in school, we wouldn’t have a need. But he is. He started JK in September and while he has kind teachers and his school has an outdoor classroom that I was thrilled about, we’re realizing it may not be the best fit. While he’s gaining independence, he doesn’t want to read much anymore because “kids just look at books!” His grammar is starting to slide. And to be honest, while they make the phonics lessons fun, is it really in his best interest to force him to sit through lessons he already knows at 3? If he’s not learning something new, shouldn’t he be playing? Look! Babycenter says he needs new experiences after all. What’s first grade going to be like when he’s chained to a desk and learning things that he knew before his second birthday? My guess is, not good. But do we pull him out of school without knowing the whole story?

Sometimes as a parent, you have to eschew  the status quo. You need to ask yourself what’s best for my child? You have to stop being afraid of looking like an idiot for the sake of getting them what they need. You need to pick and choose your experts. But you shouldn’t have to be prepared for people to judge you. We’ve all been places we didn’t think we’d end up. And sometimes, you are the only expert you need.

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