Friday, March 1, 2019

Late blooming gifted children

One commonly held assumption about gifted children is that they achieve milestones well ahead of time. They scale their crib's walls before they can walk. They read at age two. They solve algebraic equations before they can tie their shoes. Astonishing reports of precocious talent set a high bar... and create the impression that all markers of giftedness emerge at an early age.

But some gifted children are late bloomers.

Although hardly a technical or diagnostic term, "late bloomers" characterizes gifted children who master intellectual, developmental or social/emotional milestones at later points in time than is expected. While they often demonstrate some early signs of giftedness - precocious speech, heightened sensitivities, or insatiable curiosity - sometimes nothing remarkably gifted may be apparent. In fact some gifted kids might even lag developmentally. They may be late talkers (such as Einstein), show little interest in reading, or prefer to play rather than engage in anything remotely academic.

Comments about late-blooming gifted children include the following:

He builds these amazing Lego structures and can focus on them for hours, but has no interest in reading. He seems pretty smart, but if he can't read before he starts kindergarten, I guess he can't be gifted.

She is very intense and talked early, and seems curious about so many things. She has little interest in playing with the other kids in preschool, though, and prefers to play by herself. She seems immature compared to the other kids, and we worry that she almost seems delayed. 

He spoke very little until he was 2 1/2. He seemed to listen intently and respond, but would not use his words. He talks a lot now that he is five, but not as fluently as some of his friends. But he seems to love math and science. He has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, and does math problems in his head for fun. I worry, though, that he won't do well in kindergarten because he seems delayed with his speech and verbal skills. 

The children described above exhibited normal development, along with advanced abilities in certain areas. Their parents viewed this normal development, though, as delayed, either because it paled in comparison to their child's strengths, or did not match abilities seen among their child's peers. Giftedness was not their concern; they were worried instead about serious developmental delays, and even whether their child would be able to navigate grade-level classes. Such fears are typical among parents of late-blooming gifted children; the lack of a reference point and the wide disparity between abilities make it difficult to assess their child's potential. It may be hard to grasp that their child's pace and maturation is on a different course than what they see among neurotypical children (or learn from parenting manuals).

Who is the typical gifted late-bloomer?

Asynchronous development, where there may be a "mismatch" between abilities, is common among gifted late bloomers. Social maturity may unfold at a slower pace, while intellectual strengths surpass those of their classmates, affecting their ability to find like-minded peers. Other times, various skills and abilities may lag, such as fine motor or speech development. Twice-exceptional children exhibit various challenges and struggles or disabilities. Some of these can be overcome (such as speech or fine-motor deficits). Others may be lifelong (e.g., autism spectrum disorder or ADHD), although there is some controversy suggesting an overdiagnosis of these disorders. Like late-blooming neurotypical children, gifted late-bloomers just may need time to "blossom" and their "delays" may level out.

What should you do if your gifted child is a late bloomer?

1. Get educated and try to gain some perspective. Gather information about child development for neurotypical, twice-exceptional and straight-up gifted kids. Great resources online include NAGC, Hoagie's Gifted, Davidson Gifted, and TECA. Books about gifted children can be found through publishers such as Great Potential Press, Prufrock Press, and Free Spirit Publishing.

2. Find support - but remain selective about whom you ask for help. Family, friends, teachers, pediatricians, counselors, coaches, babysitters - all may have experience with neurotypical or even "normally progressing" gifted kids. However, many may misunderstand or misjudge gifted late bloomers. You may be flooded with suggestions and critique about everything from your parenting acumen to your three-year-old's career trajectory. Online gifted forums also present some dilemmas - sometimes participants can be quite supportive; other times, reading about highly advanced children can trigger your worst fears.

Use caution when seeking advice, and disregard information that is hurtful, counterproductive or just does not seem to fit for your child. Sometimes you can nod politely and escape the interaction. Other times, insensitive comments warrant a counterargument, and it is certainly appropriate to point out how your child differs from what the advice-giver might be implying. Find friends and educators/health care providers who "get" giftedness in all of its variations, quirkiness, and asynchrony.

3. Seek help for your child when needed. Sometimes early intervention is beneficial. Even though most "delays' will even out, some help along the way can reduce stress for your child and family. Speech, occupational, or physical therapy can be critical at an early age when deficits are present. Social skills training, or even simple guidance about how to handle social interactions can help your gifted child navigate confusing peer relations. Evaluations for disabilities or mental health difficulties are essential if your have questions or concerns - along with finding the right school, tutor, program, therapist, education specialist or treatment center.

4. Accept your child. Take a deep breath and appreciate your child's uniqueness, abilities, quirks, adorableness, and loving nature. Recognize that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. None of us progresses evenly through life - we all have peaks and valleys, and sometimes this includes developmental spurts and minor delays. Remember that the striking contrast between your gifted child's exceptionally advanced abilities and minor delays - or even normal development - can create anxiety when it may not be warranted.

Your gifted late bloomer's development should even out eventually. Remind yourself of this every day. If struggles persist, though, and your child's pediatrician, teacher, or a psychologist suspect a significant delay, pursue an evaluation with the appropriate professional. This might require the expertise of a school psychologist, neuropsychologist, reading specialist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, or other expert. The sooner you gain clarity about any deficits or areas that require support, the more quickly any delays or problems will resolve.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Special Populations. To see more blogs, click on the following link.

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  1. This fits for my daughter. She was very slow at first and it worried us a lot. She caught up by pre-school and we haven't had problems since.

  2. Can this describe a 16 year old?! Still waiting... :)

    1. Lisa, Haha - yes, definitely! Late bloomers often keep blooming late - especially socially or in terms of executive function skills. But they get there eventually!

  3. Gail,
    When our son was young, we frequently read the children's book "Leo the Late Bloomer" by Robert Kraus. Don't know if it helped him, but it helped remind us not to compare him to other children and gave us hope!
    However, I totally agree that ruling out underlying medical/developmental issues is crucial. Parents in PA can request a free Preschool/Early Intervention screening from their Intermediate Unit.

    1. Thanks, Rose. Sounds like a great book! And thanks for the advice about early intervention screening. If you don't live in Pa., please check out what is available in your area.

  4. I think I started blooming in my 50s...after several years of therapy! :) Thanks, Gail, for this most informative post.

    1. Paula, Haha...We all bloom at different ages, don't we? Thanks for your comments.

  5. I see. My teachers told my parents I might be gifted but all I could ever recall was the fact that gifted people showed their talents very early. Thanks because mine was shown when I was in my teenage years