Shifting the Paradigm: Asynchrony and the High-Potential Child

The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) created a kerfuffle in the gifted education community very recently by recommending that efforts to support gifted children be focused not on identification, but on talent development. We want to go on the record to say that the NAGC has done wonderful things in service to this population, but that they are missing the mark with their new recommendation. Allow me to elaborate:

1. The NAGC notes correctly that “programs… are driven by identification methods rather than service models and rightly criticized for focusing on too narrow a group of learners.” They’re partly right; the goal is to serve the population of children whose intellectual ability and promise is on the outlying end of the spectrum, children who are many ages at once (asynchronous). Focusing solely on identifying kids using the methods used particularly in the public school system has indeed partly failed. The system must include a focus on service models that work for each child.

But the NAGC has the emphasis wrong: The system is failing not because focusing on identification is wrong; but because the methods of identification are flawed:

    • Academic-based performance as a measure of identification of gifted and asynchronous children only identifies those who have managed to perform well in school. This tends to be those who fit in a particular segment, often between 130 and 145 IQ, and those without learning disabilities (those who are not twice exceptional).
    • IQ tests measure general intelligence (“g”), which is incredibly one-dimensional and thus may rarely, if ever, measure the true intelligence, capacity and promise of the most significantly asynchronous (“gifted”) children. (See Karl Bunday’s History of IQ Tests and the “Challenges to g” section of the Wikipedia entry on “g factor”, although I’d love a better link if anyone can offer one in the comments.)
    • Yet worse, every single IQ test in existence today has a ceiling effect that fails to take into account the most profoundly asynchronous children; testers run out of questions, even if extended norms are used; and the only non-ceilinged test (the Stanford Binet L-M) is so woefully out of date that it has substantial flaws in application as well.
    • Add to that the fact that anyone’s performance on a test like this is subject to the vicissitudes of their health and mood that day, their rapport with the tester, the tester’s skill and objectivity, the effectiveness of the individual test taken, etc., and you have a very imperfect measure.

What to do with these flawed methods? We shouldn’t discard them, but rather keep them (and their shortcomings) in perspective. We should educate ourselves using the many resources that exist about giftedness; the Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum has one good list, but there are others. We should also supplement these methods with something that much of the education world ignores or discounts now: the observations of the child’s parents regarding the development and characteristics of their children.

More research can be done on this point. But the observations of parents regarding the giftedness of their children tends to be very accurate, according to the Gifted Development Center and as confirmed informally by a vast segment of participants in online communities for families of gifted children. Questionnaires for parents and families that assess measures like those described by the GDC should be developed and used by educators, healthcare professionals, and others. The results should be given substantial weight.

We agree with the NAGC that talent development in education is important. But a sole focus on talent development ignores development of the whole child, which for exceptionally and profoundly asynchronous children is at least as critical, if not more so. The social and emotional development of these children is the hardest area to address effectively, some say. Many specialists in the field of education and assessment of profoundly asynchronous children believe that when these kids are nurtured socially and emotionally, their educational development naturally follows on its own, unless it is actively hindered by the educational situation in which the children are located.

Kids like this need to feel emotionally safe; have social and emotional support in coping with their extreme asynchrony (having adult-level thoughts about death, life purpose, philosophy, morality, etc., with only 5 or 6 years of life experience and emotional resilience, e.g.).

Equally important, kids need to know there are other kids like them. They need to find them and spend time with them.

And lastly, we argue that it is absolutely critical that the damage that comes from the very word “gifted” needs to stop. The education world in particular needs to leave this word behind. These children are as different from typical kids as typical kids are from those who are profoundly developmentally challenged. Their needs are equally extremely different. We need a marketing miracle-worker to help us find a term that will work, apparently, but the fact remains that the change needs to happen.

We welcome your comments and suggestions!