By Stephanie Newitt, B.S. Early Childhood/Elementary Ed.
On April 10th, Gilbert Supporters of the Gifted hosted a guest lecture that focused on the asynchronous development of the gifted child. How does child development play a part in gifted education? That is what this lecture explored.
To begin with, let us review two components of the Gilbert Public Schools Gifted Mission Statement which was developed in 2012 by educators, administrators and parents in the Gilbert community. The GPS Gifted Mission Statement, in part, states that GPS seeks to …
· Address the specific needs of gifted, highly gifted, profoundly gifted and twice-exceptional students …
· Address the social, emotional, cognitive, academic, physical, and kinesthetic needs of each gifted or twice-exceptional student.
First, what does it mean to be gifted, highly gifted, profoundly gifted, or twice exceptional?
Doesn’t gifted just mean really smart? To better understand this, we need to step back and obtain perspective. Let’s look at the common bell curve, the height of the bell curve representing students with typical intelligence.
Those on the extreme far left fall far below the norm and qualify for special education services.
We can see that those on the extreme far right are the same distance from the norm and qualify for gifted education services.
Within Special Education there is a spectrum: mild, moderate, and severe/profound. Those unique individuals who qualify for special education services due to the unique “hard-wiring” of their brain have very specific intellectual and developmental needs. They therefore, require services to grow and meet their potential. Not all students in special education receive the exact same types of services. Services are based on student needs.
Now let’s look at the gifted spectrum. That’s right, giftedness also has a spectrum: gifted, highly gifted, and profoundly gifted. These unique individuals also have a unique “hard-wiring” of their brain which affects their intellectual and developmental needs. They too genuinely need appropriate services in order to grow and meet their potential. Not all students in the gifted spectrum should receive the exact same types of services, as services should again be based on student needs.
A student who is Twice Exceptional (2e) qualifies for BOTH the special education and gifted education services. This could be a child who has dyslexia but functions above grade level in math. This could be a student who reads three levels above grade level but who also operates within the autism spectrum.
We have defined the gifted spectrum. Now, let’s move on to the second point we wish to cover - addressing the needs of the whole gifted child. Why is this necessary, I mean, aren’t all gifted students well adjusted in school? To answer this question, let’s look again at our typical student. A typical 12 year-old student at the height of the bell curve most likely functions at grade level in almost all areas and has hit almost all developmental milestones within appropriate times, give or take some individuality. Their overall development is in synch with the age of their body, or their chronological age.
A gifted child, due to their unique hard-wiring, experiences development that is “out of synch,” or asynchronous, to their chronological age. Their hard-wiring affects the depth and breadth of their emotions, which can be hard to self-regulate; their intellectual processing speed, and their ability to notice and internalize social cues. Let’s look at both of these students on a bar graph. They have the same chronological age, but their developmental areas fall in very different places.
Asynchronous development is the defining characteristic of gifted children.
Dr. Linda Kreger Silerman has stated, "...gifted children develop in an uneven manner, ... they are more complex and intense than their agemates, ... they feel out-of-sync with age peers and 'age appropriate curriculum,' ... the internal and external discrepancies increase with IQ, and ... these differences make them extremely vulnerable.”
As giftedness increases on the spectrum, the child’s development becomes more and more “out-of-sync” with age peers.
Let’s try another visual. Let’s imagine circles within circles. Like tree rings, each circle indicates an age. For a typical student, like a tree, the most outer ring is the student’s chronological age and the age of their overall developmental levels, again, give or take some individuality. The circle is divided up into pie shaped slices, each slice indicating an area of development. For the typical student, the circle is filled in nicely.
Let us look at how such a pie chart may appear for a gifted student.
The gifted student’s pie chart is very different from that of a typical student and their unique needs and deficits require services in order for growth to occur. Because of their asynchronous development, gifted students can experiences difficulties in school – academic as well as social.
Gifted education is recognizing where a student is in their areas of development, across all slices of the pie, and providing support for their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Gifted Education is also understanding the emotional intensities and perfectionistic tendencies that impact the learning and growth of gifted students.
As parents and educators we need to recognize, understand and provide support for our gifted students in their asynchronous development. As much as we would like to always be able to treat our 12 year old child like the 17 year old mathematician that she is, we need to remember that ability does not equal maturity. Providing her with complex math is fair and appropriate; it is also fair and appropriate to treat our mathematician like a 12 year old when we give out responsibilities, express expectations and introduce her to new social situations.
As Gilbert Public Schools looks forward to fulfilling its Gifted Education Vision:
Gilbert Public Schools is a premier provider of services to Pre-K through Grade 12 students identified as gifted or twice-exceptional, using research-based instruction to address the needs of the whole child.
GPS understands that more teacher-training needs to be provided. To this end, GPS is increasing its professional development offerings in gifted education for its educators. Gilbert Supporters of the Gifted will also continue to provide opportunities for parents to better understand the giftedness of their children. Together, as parents and educators, we can provide appropriate support for the gifted students and their families within our community.
In conclusion, we need to remember –
• ASYNCHRONOUS development is TYPICAL development for a gifted child.
• A gifted child’s intellectual age is often well-above their chronological age, but their judgment is often more closely aligned to their chronological age.
• Intelligence and knowledge ≠ emotional maturity, understanding or wisdom.
• Adults who are unaware of a child’s asynchrony can easily fall into the trap of expecting the child to act her older mental age rather than their younger chronological age.
• The more gifted a child, the more likely he is to have a wide spread of abilities.
• To be aware of our gifted child’s asynchrony.
• More information on asynchronous development can be found in the book A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children by James Webb, et. al.