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If Gifted = Asynchronous Development, then Gifted/Special Needs = Asynchrony Squared

by Lee Singer

From Uniquely Gifted: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of Twice Exceptional Students, Kiesa Kay ed., Avocus Publishing: Gilsum, NH, 2000.

Martha Morelock and the Columbus Group have suggested that "asynchronous development" is the defining characteristic of gifted children. Most of the literature on gifted children describes children whose asynchrony is mainly in the differences between their intellectual (mental) ages versus their chronological or emotional ages. I do not want to minimize the problems of meeting the needs of children who have mental ages more than 50 percent higher than their chronological ages. As Linda Kreger Silverman so aptly describes it "...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."

Gifted/special needs children develop in an even more extremely uneven manner. They are more complex and intense than their gifted agemates, and no single grade-level curriculum will meet their needs. These discrepancies are even greater than those of other gifted kids, making them even more vulnerable. In addition to having asynchrony between their intellectual and physical development, they have extreme asynchrony between intellectual development and the ability to express or use that intellect.

So what does it mean to be gifted/special needs? If Gifted = Asynchronous Development, then Gifted/Special Needs = Asynchrony Squared.

For my son who is gifted and mildly dyslexic, it means being bored to tears in math and science classes because they are too easy, while struggling to read grade-level books. It means not being able to read books that discuss science and other topics at his level of understanding. It means finding reading class books challenging, but the classroom discussions excruciatingly boring.

For my son, who is gifted and has dysgraphia (extreme difficulties with writing), being gifted/special needs means having his hands get cramped and tired after only one page of writing. It means being unable to write and think at the same time, so that his written work doesn't come anywhere near reflecting the depth of his thoughts. It means he is thinking about math concepts that his teachers don't understand, but having trouble writing them down.

For my son, who is gifted and has ADHD, being gifted/special needs means getting assignments wrong because he missed some of the instructions and therefore did the wrong thing correctly. It means getting into trouble for not paying attention because he is incapable of focusing on multi-step oral instructions, but seems too smart to not understand what he is supposed to do. It means getting in trouble for losing control at the end of the day, when he is tired and his medication has worn off because "you're too smart to forget the rules".

For my son, being gifted is not enough to compensate for the combined effects of the dyslexia and the ADHD-caused auditory processing problems, which make it nearly impossible to learn a foreign language. My son is a visual-spatial learner but the dyslexia makes it hard to associate written and spoken words in a foreign language. The inability to consistently attend to auditory stimuli makes it almost impossible to associate the sounds of a foreign language with their meaning. So, being "many times gifted" means feeling hopeless and stupid in language class.

For me, having a child who is "many times gifted" means trying to find a school that can accommodate a highly gifted child with special needs, while living in a state where "gifted" is a dirty word. It means finding that private schools are not equipped to provide the special services for my son's learning disabilities, while the local public schools have no gifted programs. It means trying to convince schools that my child needs special education services even though he is working at grade level, because that is still far below his intellectual capacity. It means having a child who is simultaneously under- and over- challenged, who spends each day alternating between extreme frustration and extreme boredom, who is miserably unhappy at school and begs for home-schooling. It means tears and battles over homework at the end of a long day, when the ADHD medications have worn off.

What does my son need? He needs support and accommodations for both his special needs and his giftedness. If I could design the perfect program for him, it would include occupational therapy for his physical problems with writing, allowing him to dictate all his work until he is physically ready to keyboard, and one-on-one instruction in writing until he is no longer convinced that he "can't write". It would include subject acceleration in math and science, so that he could be learning the subjects he most loves at his own level. It would include finding a math mentor who can explore advanced mathematics with him. It would include short school days and a light homework load, so that he has time outside of school to decompress and think and explore and just be a child. Most importantly, it would include teachers who understand that a child can both be highly gifted and have learning challenges and that inconsistent work is a sign of ADHD rather than of "not trying", who support him where he is weak while helping him soar where he is strong, and who appreciate his sparkle, creativity and humor.

Having said all this, I am the one who is "many times gifted," because I have a beautiful sensitive child whose gifts lead him to see the world in creative, unexpected ways, and whose intelligence and learning disabilities help make him a sensitive and loving child, who brings me great joy and blessings.

 
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