Sunday, July 1, 2018

Where can I find a friend? How asynchronous development affects relationships

Gifted children, teens, and even adults often possess social and emotional traits - both gifts and encumbrances - that sometimes interfere with establishing and maintaining friendships and relationships.

And the most formidable trait just might be asynchronous development.

While asynchronous development is best defined as a discrepancy in skills or development among gifted children, it is most apparent when a child's advanced intellectual abilities contrast with an emotional or social (im)maturity reflective of a much younger child. A child who tries to converse about chemistry on the playground, for example, and then melts down into tears when rebuffed, is not going to fare well socially. This predictable pattern is frustrating and heartbreaking for both child and parent.

Asynchronous development may continue through adolescence and young adulthood. These individuals often struggle to find peers who "get them." Socially delayed, awkward and insecure, they may delve further into their studies as an escape, or become angry and disgusted with the prevailing social culture. Some retreat and become isolated, socializing with only a few select friends. Dating and sexual experimentation may start later for some of these teens and young adults, further delaying their maturation.

Self-doubt and insecurity is fueled by an excruciating awareness of their differences, and sometimes painful experiences with ostracism and bullying. Nevertheless, most gifted children and teens long for friends who will understand and accept them. Even those who are introverted still crave friendships and relationships that might offer meaningful connection, and allow them to relax and be themselves.

Sometimes gifted teens don't get to "exhale" until college, although even then, finding friends who understand them may be difficult. Their intellect and social differences may be tolerated - and even appreciated - within a university setting, but some asynchronous students still don't fit in. While their peers are out partying and surveying the frat scene, gifted young adults instead might prefer an intense dialogue about existential issues with a few close friends, or an evening spent alone reading, or playing online chess.

Even though many achieve academic or career success, some gifted adults bear the burdens of their childhood scars. The years of outlier status and difficulty relating to peers take a toll. Many still feel like misfits - shy, insecure, and afraid to assert themselves socially or on the dating scene. Some feel like impostors in their careers, especially when advancement comes easily, and self-doubts can extend even further into their relationships.

These scars can make adaptation to adult life more difficult. Add to that the common residual traits of heightened sensitivities and overthinking, and gifted adults may have a tough road ahead. Those who are perfectionistic can be highly critical of any mistakes in school or on the job, and cringe if they commit any perceived social error. A minor miscommunication or a joke that falls flat can seem devastating. Perfectionistic gifted people expect as much from themselves socially as they do in every other endeavor.

How can you help your gifted child?

1. Help your child understand what it means to be gifted. Help him appreciate that giftedness is just one aspect of who he is - and that it does not make him any better or worse than anyone else. You will need to tailor your language to your child's age and capacity to understand, and also explain how asynchronous development may complicate friendships. For ideas on how to talk to your child, you might consider some of the suggestions listed here.

2. Seek out opportunities where your child can interact with like-minded peers, regardless of their age. If ability grouping or challenging extracurriculars are not available at school, investigate what options might be available after school, at local colleges, and during the summer. Sometimes low-cost, free or scholarship opportunities are available. And while the activity should be challenging and engaging, it is just as critical that it serves as a place for making friends. That experience of true connection gifted children long for may not occur until they find such an extracurricular activity or class, and their enthusiasm, relief and sense of wonder when this occurs is palpable.

3. Help your child with social skills and emotions. An advanced intellect and/or social immaturity are no excuse for neglecting to learn social manners, patience, and empathy for others. If your child struggles to contain her feelings, exhibiting rage or melt-downs, help her learn to control and more appropriately express these emotions. In contrast, some gifted children are empathetic to a fault, and overthink every interaction. If your child is shy and socially anxious, or your teen is socially isolated, offer advice about how to proceed, and even ideas about what she might say in social situations. Some ideas for addressing these concerns can be found herehere, here and here. However, when support and guidance from family and friends is not enough, counseling with a licensed mental health professional is recommended.

Gifted children, teens and adults thrive when they understand the social, emotional and cultural impact of their giftedness, when they feel understood and accepted, when surrounded by like-minded peers, and when they are not criticized for any delays in their social-developmental trajectory. As parents, we must help them navigate the path to adulthood, seek out activities where they can develop healthy social relationships, and encourage them to accept, work with, and appreciate their unique differences.

More blog posts about asynchronous development can be found hereherehere, here, and here. Let us know about your experience with your asynchronous child in the comments section below.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Relationships. To read more blogs, click on: