The Effects of Asynchrony in Children that Are Gifted

Children with high abilities often suffer from asynchrony in their development. This must be addressed in order to help them.
The Effects of Asynchrony in Children that Are Gifted
Elena Sanz Martín

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 18 October, 2022

Children with high abilities show high performance in intellectual, creative, and artistic areas. They possess good abstract reasoning, ask questions that aren’t typical of other children their age, and have deep concerns and interests. However, this doesn’t make them miniature adults. Their development in other areas, such as emotional and social areas, doesn’t occur at the same pace, and if this isn’t understood and addressed, there can be significant consequences. Therefore, it’s important to know what asynchrony in children is.

When dealing with these children, we often make the mistake of focusing solely on their intellectuality. Thus, we offer support and cognitive and school enrichment programs, and we seek to provide them with knowledge and tools that nurture their minds and their potential. But we forget that they’re complex human beings and that their development must be integral. For this, the different rhythms must be respected.

Asynchrony in children with high capacities

Asynchrony syndrome was described by the French psychologist Jean-Charles Terrassier. It refers to the lack of concordance that occurs in these children in terms of their different ages: Chronological, intellectual, emotional, social, and motor, among others. In other words, a 7-year-old child can have an intellectual age of 12 and an emotional development equivalent to a 5-year-old.

This asynchrony in children can affect many areas, as different abilities and skills develop at different rates. The fact that a child is intellectually advanced doesn’t imply that their language, motor, emotional, or social skills are at the same level. And, when this imbalance or dyssynchrony isn’t taken into account, several difficulties may arise.

The effects of asynchrony

The effects of asynchrony are visible in multiple contexts: At home, at school, in the relationship with peers, and even in the child’s own internal world. And this arises because we tend to think that, being so apparently mature, this infant is prepared to handle situations that, in reality, they’re not ready to face. Here are some of the main effects of not taking into account this age mismatch.

A child doing homework at the table.
Often, children with high abilities can read fluently and have great reasoning, but aren’t able to write easily or explain the concepts they’ve learned.

Unrealistic demands

If we look only at intellectual age, we may demand tasks from the child for which they’re not ready. For example, it’s common for intellect and psychomotor skills not to develop in tandem. Thus, the child may read with great fluency but not be able to write with the same ease.

Similarly, they may be able to reason and understand complex concepts, but not be able to verbalize them. They may have understood a lesson with great ease, but when it comes to explaining it in an exam, they may not be able to do so. And this is due to an asynchrony between reasoning and language.

School failure

This is one of the most surprising realities, but it occurs very frequently. It’s estimated that 70% of gifted students have poor school performance, while about 40% suffer school failure. What happens is that there’s a mismatch between what the school offers and what the child needs.

Many children with high abilities are unmotivated in the classroom because the teaching content isn’t at their level. Thus, they lose interest and don’t make the same effort as any other child. In addition, due to their great capacity for comprehension, they don’t develop study habits or memorization strategies, which they may consider unnecessary.

On the other hand, emotions play a fundamental role in learning and these are usually not taken into account in the educational environment. Some studies have found that emotional intelligence favors good academic performance. Therefore, if this aspect is left aside, it can lead these children to school failure.

Emotional discomfort

The asynchrony between intellect and affection is one of the most important consequences for these children. Although they’re so capable of reasoning, questioning, and understanding the world, they may not have the same ability to understand their emotions. Generally, it’s difficult for them to interpret their rich inner world, manage their feelings, and cope with the feeling of being different. Their emotions are often intense, deep, and overflowing.

This can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety disorders, sadness, and even depression. Of course, these conditions can occur if they don’t have adequate support and guidance from adults.

A boy resting his head on his desk during class.
Children with high abilities may have problems relating to other children, as they have different interests and feel rejected or misunderstood.

Social isolation

Due precisely to their differences, children with high abilities may have problems adapting at school and relating to their peers. Thus, they may not share the same interests and perspectives as other children their age, feel misunderstood and rejected, and suffer isolation.

Inadequate parenting

Finally, asynchrony also affects the family, which may not make the best parenting decisions. Because we perceive these children to be so mature, we may let them make decisions that aren’t theirs to make and fall into permissiveness and lack of limits. Let’s remember that they still need help to understand their emotions, develop their social skills, and acquire good habits. Parents should be the ones to set the rules and guide and teach their children.

Understanding and managing asynchrony in children to improve their quality of life

In short, parents, educators, and any adult working with children with high abilities should understand asynchrony and its effects. It’s crucial that we pay attention to the degree of development in each area in order to offer the necessary help and adjustments. We shouldn’t limit ourselves only to judging the child by their intellectual capacity.

Yes, it’s important to enrich and nurture their mind and curiosity, but it’s also important to do a lot of emotional work, supervise, and set limits. Let’s remember that they’re not miniature adults and that they have the right to live and enjoy their childhood.

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  • García-Rona, A., & Sierra-Vázquezb, J. (2011). Niños con altas capacidades intelectuales. Signos de alarma, perfil neuropsicológico y sus dificultades académicas. Anales de Pediatría Continuada9(1), 69-72.
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