It's all in the wiring
A recent blog post poignantly described the asynchronous development commonly seen among many highly gifted children. Striking differences in abilities make it hard to grasp what is going on. How can children who are so bright struggle so much? Why would such perceptive children have so many emotional blind-spots? How can a child be gifted and developmentally delayed?
Gifted children have been labeled non-neurotypical or neuro-atypical. And put simply, their thinking is atypical. They don't fit the norm. There is still much we don't understood about how they process information, how they view the world, and why there are so many contradictions in their development. Their wiring just seems different.
An Example of Wiring Differences
Years ago, I read an innovative and controversial book, "Late-talking Children"* by economist Thomas Sowell, which described a unique group of children who developed speech and expressive language much later than expected, yet who eventually caught up and often demonstrated exceptional intellectual and/or musical abilities as adults. His very unscientific surveys would make most researchers cringe, but were nevertheless eye-opening, and highlighted several striking trends.
The late-talking children in Sowell's survey had several traits in common: 1) they frequently went on to develop successful careers in the STEM or music fields; 2) they often had genetic ties to family members (parents or grandparents) who were mathematicians, engineers, or musicians; and 3) approximately 80% were boys.
Sowell theorized that these children had highly developed spatial skills that occupied much of their time and attention. In fact, it was assumed that they were so preoccupied with spatial interests (e.g., Legos, building forts), that their developing brain needed time to "catch up" in the verbal arena. Speech and language development would just need to wait. Sowell also suggested that the reason for the much lower percentage of identified girls might be due to the greater fluidity of communication across hemispheres in the female brain. This would permit verbal and spatial abilities to develop at an equal rate, even among spatially talented young girls.
How does this relate to giftedness?
Although Sowell did not use terms such as twice-exceptional, asynchronous or neuro-atypical, his theories are worth considering. We know famous examples of brilliant innovators (e.g., Einstein, Edison) who did not speak until a late age. We know that many gifted children do not follow the expected developmental path. Many lag in motor skills and suffer from dysgraphia. Some do not necessarily read at an early age, despite eventually becoming prolific readers. Many are socially immature, and have meltdowns because their overexcitabilities, oversensitivities and intensity get the best of them. They cannot regulate their highly excitable emotions and lack the maturity to control their behavior.
Why is this important?
Many theories of gifted development are, well... theories. Useful, informative, even brilliant, but theories nonetheless. Dabrowski's theory of positive disintegration, for example, includes a framework for understanding the emotional overexcitabilities gifted children (and their parents) have to manage, and emphasizes that giftedness encompasses much more than exceptional intellectual abilities.
What we don't understand is the reason.
Why are these children more excitable? Why are they more reactive? Why is asynchronous development a part of the package? Why, in fact, would a brilliant child, a future mathematician or musician, struggle with speech and language long past when appropriate developmental milestones should have been reached?
Clearly more well-designed, statistically sound research into the brain development of gifted individuals is needed. One blog post summarized some interesting research, but there is not a lot out there. Let's encourage and support research efforts that will unravel these mysteries and help us understand the complexities of gifted thinking.
Did your gifted child show any delays in development? What wiring differences do you think exist among gifted children? Let us know your thoughts!
*Sowell, T. (1998). Late-talking children. New York: Basic Books.
My son was all over the place - read a few words early, but then had no interest in reading. Walked late, but then ran everywhere. When he finally read things, read voraciously. He would have meltdowns over the smallest things, but was so much more compassionate toward others than the other children his age would have even considered. These kids are such a puzzle sometimes. Thanks for writing thisReplyDelete
Thanks for your comments. Your experience with your child is more common than you think. So many gifted children show variations in their development. Good luck with your son.Delete
I love this post! I think that so many people assume that gifted learners are high achievers, and they completely miss the asynchronous development aspect of giftedness. Thank you for this post!ReplyDelete
Caitie, Thanks so much! I agree - many gifted learners are a mixed bunch, full of lots of surprises. Those unfamiliar with them often misunderstand how varied they can be in their development or abilities.Delete
I really enjoyed this post as well. Reading this was like reading my childhood. This was me as a kid. I didn't talk until later but when i did it was in full sentences according to my parents. I use to play with legos for HOURS at a young age building elaborate buildings and structures. as I built those lego masterpieces I dreamed of designing buildings when I grew up. When I entered school I suffered in math and I had a form of slight dyslexia or dysgraphia although it was never formally diagnosed. Though, My mother was diagnosed with severe dyslexia as a child and so did my younger brother. My father is well versed in mathematics and science and qualified to be in mensa but he didn't see the point and never joined... I didn't find this out until I told him about my daughter is showing signs of being gifted! So it seems the author of the study is somewhat right... at least in my case. I never went on to be in the science or mathematics field. I do play multiple instruments and can teach myself how to play more if I wanted to but my real passion lies in fine arts and surface design and I was going to college for it.ReplyDelete
Nicole, Thank you so much for sharing your own experience with this. So many people think gifted children easily follow a clear trajectory in their development. Your story is another example of how different it can be for so many gifted people. Thanks again.Delete
This does perfectly explain my son. He received a perfect score on his FCAT, but is flunking in his gifted programs in middle school. He is overly excitable, easily frustrated, totally and utterly lacking in focus because he's busy playing with his pencil, making elaborate drawings of battles. He comes from a long background of mathematicians and engineers. School is a nightmare for him and me. Would love more information on this topic.ReplyDelete
Anonymous, I hope you are able to get a more thorough evaluation to see what would be beneficial for your son. All because he is not conforming to what the school offers does not mean he does not deserve more. Good luck with this.Delete