Asynchronous Development

When young children are gifted, sometimes their development is out of synch.

Schoolgirl in front of wipe board, math equations
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Asynchronous development refers to uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development. In average children, intellectual, physical, and emotional development progresses at about the same rate. That is, the development is in "sync." An average 3-year-old has the intellectual and physical abilities as well as the emotional maturity most other 3-year-olds have. However, in gifted children, the development of those areas is out of "sync." They do not progress at the same rate.


The higher a child's IQ is, the more out of sync his or her development is likely to be. It should not be assumed, however, that each area of development must be out of sync with the others. For example, it is quite possible for a child to be advanced in all areas of development.

What Are the Implications of Asynchronous Development?

Asynchronous development creates numerous problems for gifted children and their families. These problems are worse for the kids when their parents don't understand this developmental pattern.

One major problem is that expectations for gifted children with asynchronous development are both unrealistic and unfair. A 5-year-old who can discuss the theories of dinosaur extinction or devise strategies to help the homeless is still a 5-year-old. That means that this child can become emotionally upset just as any other 5-year-old. However, because the child is intellectually advanced, thinking and talking like a much older child, some adults may mistakenly expect him to have the emotional control of an older child.

This presents obvious challenges to gifted children whose physical development is not as advanced as their intellectual development. For example, an intellectually advanced child is able to evaluate the work that she does and compare it  to the work of adults. They can visualize a completed picture in their mind, but their fine motor skills may be insufficiently developed to allow them to draw or paint it.

They will get upset when they see that their work does not measure up to the work of adults. They don't understand that the issue is that their physical development has not reached the level that would allow them to do the kind of work they imagine.

When a child's parents understand asynchronous development, they can support their child and help the child understand that their muscles simply aren't ready to do what their minds want them to do. 

Eventually, the development evens out, almost always by sometime during the early teen years. But asynchronous development is uneven and can cause some real problems for gifted kids and their families. 

It's crucial, therefore, for parents to recognize that a gifted child's emotional and social development will not always match his or her intellectual development. Before responding to a child's emotional outburst or concluding that a child is socially or emotionally immature, stop a moment to remind yourself of the child's chronological age. The behavior may be totally in line with one expects from children of similar age.


Gifted children often feel like misfits, particularly when they are in classes with traditional learners. It's important not only to pay attention to a child's intellectual development, but his social and physical development as well.

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