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Asynchronous Development Of A Gifted Child And Their Unique Needs

Causes | Giftedness definition | Asynchronous development in gifted students | Challenges | How to parent a gifted child

What is asynchronous development

Asynchronous development occurs when different parts of the human brain do not develop synchronously. Asynchrony results in the uneven development of different skills. Typically, an asynchronous child excels academically and in cognitive abilities ahead of their chronological age, but struggles socially​1​.

Asynchrony can occur in either direction. A child with the emotional maturity of a teenager and the physical abilities of a 7-year-old, and a child with a teenager’s body and a 7-year-old mind, are both asynchronous children.

Asynchronous development is widely discussed in gifted education, in which this term refers to gifted children who can master certain skills quickly while having difficulty with others.

Asynchronous brain development is a common problem among gifted students. It is characterized by a lack of coordination between cognitive and affective processes. Despite their intellectual ability, these children often struggle with social interactions and emotional regulation.

laughing kid with hand-drawn lightbulb above head

What causes asynchronous development

In asynchronous development, two or more parts of an organism develop at different rates. One eye might develop earlier than the other, for example.

Asynchrony can be found among many animals, including humans. The conditions may be caused by genetic problems, the child’s environment, or both​2​. Asynchronous maturation may result in differences in different areas of development such as intellectual development, physical development, social development, and emotional development.

Giftedness definition

Giftedness is a term used to describe individuals who are exceptional in particular areas of intelligence​3​.

Children gifted with precocious abilities show remarkable aptitudes in areas such as math, music, art, language, and science. Furthermore, they tend to be independent learners and thinkers. Often, they can learn at a much faster rate than average children.

The traditional definition of giftedness concentrates on factors that can lead to higher achievements in adulthood or the possibility of becoming successful.

Unfortunately, this definition gets caught up in the metaphor of “gifts”. Many people believe the most important part of being gifted is that “gifts” can be turned into achievements. The notion that giftedness is synonymous with potential for success in adulthood often provokes backlash from those who believe that they are denied equal opportunity at success.

Thus, gifted asynchronous development poses unique challenges that do not generally receive sympathy or help.

What is asynchronous development in gifted students

To accurately portray the characteristics of atypical development, the Columbus Group (1991) proposed the following definition of giftedness​1​.

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.

Challenges of asynchronous development in gifted students

Unfair expectations

Parents or grownups often expect asynchronously developing children to perform in ways that are unreasonable and unfair. Because they are intelligent, speak and think like an older child, adults sometimes assume they have as much emotional control of an older child even at a young age. This assumption leads to expectations that are difficult to meet.

Also, due to their intelligence, many parents expect their children to excel academically with no effort on their part. When gifted kids struggle in school, their parents find it very difficult to understand​4​.

Emotion intensity and vulnerability

Gifted children not only think in different ways, but they also feel differently. When higher levels of emotional intensity combine with advanced cognitive skills, gifted children are more conscious of life events and experience more intense feelings. Their intelligence and compassion often lead them to an awareness that they are not emotionally ready to handle.

These children are often called “too sensitive” because they are highly sensitive to their environment and easily overwhelmed by it​5​.

Struggle in social development

Gifted kids are often considered smarter than other kids in their age group. Gifted children may solve problems in ways that others cannot, and see things differently than most people.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that these students are always better at social adjustment than others.

There are times when they struggle to fit in social situations because their social development hasn’t caught up yet. These kids may also have a hard time making and keeping friends​6​. Some even experience bullying because of their differences and inferior social skills​7​.

Trying to fit in

Socialization is a major issue for young kids.

Asynchronous kids often suffer from loneliness, not because they are unfriendly by nature but because their attempts to fit in are quickly defeated. Other kids do not talk the same way, like the same things or think about the same issues. As if bright children were destined to live in social isolation and alienation.

For the gifted to feel “normal,” sometimes they must give up their beliefs, behaviors, and values. Intensive self-analysis, self-critique, and inability to acknowledge their limits can plague them.

Gifted individuals who are introverted, have low self-esteem, and feel helpless are more prone to develop major depression​8​.

How to parent a gifted child with asynchronous development

Gifted asynchronous children are often misunderstood and isolated. They are commonly labeled as “special” or “different” and are treated differently than their peers. They possess a set of characteristics that are uniquely vulnerable.

Although these children feel different from their peers and often struggle in different areas in life, they are rarely offered the help they need to overcome challenging areas.

Caring for gifted children requires modifications in parenting. Recognize that the more gifted a child is, the more asynchronous they are. Listen to them and support the child’s emotional needs instead of accusing them of being “too sensitive”.


  1. 1.
    Silverman LK. The construct of asynchronous development. Peabody Journal of Education. Published online June 1997:36-58. doi:10.1080/0161956x.1997.9681865
  2. 2.
    Wang H. Fatty acid amide hydrolase deficiency limits early pregnancy events. Journal of Clinical Investigation. Published online August 1, 2006:2122-2131. doi:10.1172/jci28621
  3. 3.
    Sternberg RJ, Davidson JE, eds. Conceptions of Giftedness. Cambridge University Press; 2005. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511610455
  4. 4.
    Morawska A, Sanders MR. Parenting Gifted and Talented Children: Conceptual and Empirical Foundations. Gifted Child Quarterly. Published online April 21, 2009:163-173. doi:10.1177/0016986209334962
  5. 5.
    Lovecky DV. Identity development in gifted children:Moral sensitivity. Roeper Review. Published online December 1997:90-94. doi:10.1080/02783199709553862
  6. 6.
    Silverman LK. Social and emotional education of the gifted: The discoveries of Leta Hollingworth. Roeper Review. Published online March 1990:171-178. doi:10.1080/02783199009553265
  7. 7.
    Peterson JS, Ray KE. Bullying and the Gifted: Victims, Perpetrators, Prevalence, and Effects. Gifted Child Quarterly. Published online April 2006:148-168. doi:10.1177/001698620605000206
  8. 8.
    Kaiser CF, Berndt DJ. Predictors of Loneliness in the Gifted Adolescent. Gifted Child Quarterly. Published online April 1985:74-77. doi:10.1177/001698628502900206

About Pamela Li

Pamela Li is an author, Founder, and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more


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