The thing about asynchronous development is, I can’t fairly write about how it looks in our house. All the stuff that would scythe right through popular one-dimensional notions of giftedness is too freaking embarrassing to my kids, and I respect them far too much to put it online.
Because the whole point of asynchronous development is that, whilst some of the stuff gifted kids do makes them look absolutely amazing, quite a lot of other stuff they do – or can’t do, or won’t do, depending on the issue – looks pretty bloody babyish. It is babyish. And my kids aren’t stupid; they know perfectly well they “should” have outgrown it like their age-peers have, but they haven’t, yet. That’s not down to my coddling or their manipulation or kids these days being soft/spoiled/getting away with murder, it’s just wiring.
It’s integral to the full picture of what we’re wrangling here, though, because the one thing us parents of gifties want you to know is that honey, we ain’t bragging. We cling to these words along with our gin bottles, because often, the “asynchronous development” part of the gifted diagnosis is the only thing that makes our kids make any degree of sense.
So instead, I’m going to share a moment from my childhood, when the asynchronicity – the all-over-the-shop development that makes gifted kids appear several ages at once – really twinkled, now that I look back through the lens of Much Reading.
On one hand, my parents bought me a subscription to Readers’ Digest for my sixth birthday, because I was desperate for reading material and they were desperate for me to stop asking questions – and they knew I’d love it. And, oh my god, I did love it. I devoured it, cover-to-cover, every month until we moved to Australia when I was 14 and the subscription lapsed. I can still tell you a whole stack of things I learned from Readers’ Digest. So on this hand, the expected precocious little smart-arse, right?
On the other hand, when my younger sisters ganged up to shame me out of thumb-sucking and sleeping with my Humpty, age 9 (first clue!), I epically lost my shit and bashed them over the head with a broom (second clue!). This hand – whoa. This hand was Daffy Duck, except actually dangerous. (Having been on the receiving end myself, I must say the tantrums of a three-year-old are a picnic compared to the same fury and lack of control whomping out of someone six years bigger and stronger.)
Now I know how today’s parenting forums would pile on. The “I would not stand for thats”, the “completely unacceptables”, the “9yo is definitely old enough to control their tempers”. It was completely unacceptable, obviously, but the point is – controlling your temper isn’t about age. It’s a learned skill. At 9, I had the self-control of your average three-year old, because I had never lost my temper before. Until that point, my parents would reasonably explain their position in any conflict and I would reasonably accept it. I’d never hit anyone; I’d never even thrown a tantrum. So my fit that night was a double-whammy: not only had I walloped my sisters, the fact that I could wallop my sisters came as a giant shock to all of us. It terrified the crap out of me, and I burst into tears every bit as loud as theirs. I was A MONSTER!
That’s asynchronous development. That’s the reason parents of gifted kids clutch their gin: at any moment, your hitherto rational, advanced, and well-adjusted child may suddenly be taken over by a foaming poltergeist of their much-younger selves – or, as in my case, a developmental stage they’d seemingly skipped altogether. (Tip: they never skip stages. If you think your kid has skipped a stage, by all means, read ahead and meet them wherever they are, but mark the place in your book. You will be revisiting it, sooner or later. Sometimes much later.)
Sure, some gifties lose their temper regularly and still take forever to learn that control. For others, it’s different aspects of development that are out of whack: they can read but not write, or recite the periodic table but not toilet-train, or calculate orbital trajectories in their heads but still need to co-sleep. The point is the lows that come with the highs and the vertiginous zipping between the two. One minute your nine-year-old is waxing lyrical about David Hartman, the first blind person to graduate med school in the US; the next minute she’s lost all self-control, everyone’s screaming hysterically, and you’re checking the littlies for concussion.
As a parent, I have suffered this whiplash so many times, it’s a wonder my head is still attached. It’s the thing I most wish to convey when I talk about the gifted. Sure, there’s an intellectual component to the diagnosis that hogs the limelight, but as a parent, you don’t really care about that. No, what keeps you awake at night is the berserker lurking behind the vocabulary, ready to leap out and wallop everyone when least expected.
That’s the thing that drove me to the forums and eventually, to my tribe of other, similarly-traumatised parents, and it’s why I’m sharing this now. Because if you don’t get what asynchronous development is, you might not know that this is what gifted looks like.