Asynchronous Learners

In my writing, I use “asynchronous learners” to refer to children who demonstrate age-atypically rapid development of one or more cognitive functions. Their development is chronologically out-of-sync with their age-mates’. The word “gifted” has traditionally been used to describe these learners. I feel that the word “gifted” is a problematically imprecise and confusing label with inflections that get in the way of communication (as I will explore on this blog).

I feel that “asynchronous learner” focuses one’s attention on what is the most salient issue in their development and the source of their special needs: namely, age-atypical asynchronous development. The “gifted” label is something that I plan to explore here on Minds On Fire.

I generally will use uneven development to refer to intrapersonal asynchronicity in order to avoid confusion with the two ways that a child’s development can be out of sync. Frequently, asynchronous learners’ various faculties develop out-of-sync with respect to each other (when compared to more typical children). A highly asynchronous learner might be years ahead of their age-mates in mathematical reasoning but only less extremely or not at all ahead in reading and/or writing. For example, Terry Tao, one of the world’s leading mathematicians, scored 760 on the math SAT at age 8 but 290 on the verbal test (answering the questions randomly would earn a score of 230). A child might be advanced in cognitive domains but lag in areas like executive function or social/emotional development.

Uneven development can be a source of great frustration and contribute to a child’s sense that there is something wrong with them — since their classmates often don’t experience these same struggles.


Asynchronous Learners by Edward Spiegel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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