The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The baby who sings himself to sleep

Tiarnan Hasyl Cawley, has just turned eight months old. For over two months now, he has sung himself to sleep at night.

I first noticed this when I turned the radio on to a classical music channel, while holding him in my arms before bedtime. He is fond of being walked around, before sleep, since it seems to lull him off. As I walked about the room, his head resting on my shoulder, I heard this small, high-pitched voice singing along with the music, rising and falling in pitch, and with enough shape and meaning to call it an effort at singing. Ever since, at times, even when music is absent, he has been known to sing at bedtime. If left alone, he will sing until overcome by sleep. If, however, one tries to sing along with him, he will fall silent, and listen to his parent's voice, as if to learn better how to master his own.

Musicality was an early gift of my own. As a child I would remember a tune at a single hearing and be able to sing or whistle it back, even years later. I believe that music, like all gifts, is an inheritance...and it seems that Tiarnan has it in him. It is emerging, spontaneously, without prompting, from the silence of early childhood.

His elder brother, Fintan Nadym, too, is known to sing: he remembers well the tunes he hears, and captures the character of the piece well, though again, and rather shamefully, we have made no effort to actually teach him to sing: he seems to be learning all on his own. Being a parent is a busy task and there doesn't seem to be energy to do all the things that an ideal world might require of us. We both try, however.

Ainan is a different matter. He has not been known to sing, but his fingers have been known to play the piano. He learnt to play around his sixth birthday, though actual performance no longer interests him. Composition was his interest in music - and he composed several pieces of his own - again unbidden, arising from his own inner creative impulses. Perhaps he will return to music to compose further - if science doesn't become his life entire.

As for Tiarnan: how does a baby know how to sing? Why does a baby wish to sing? What message is there in his tuneful voice? We cannot know...but Tiarnan does, as he sings on my shoulder, as night falls about him. There is no known song in his voice - the song is his own, the effort at form and shape come from within and not through mimicing music from without. One day we will know what and why he sings - but until that day, we just listen to his little voice, until it is stilled by sleep.

(For more on Tiarnan and on Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, his scientific child prodigy brother, and Fintan Nadym Cawley, three, a natural leader and brave boy, go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:22 AM 


Blogger Amiene Rev said...

There are many intelligent childrens, but they are ignored. Being ignorant. Even by their parent!


Your childs, has a great parent. They are very lucky...

4:36 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is true, Amiene, that the talented are often overlooked - even by their parents. This is such a pity.

Thanks for your confidence in my parenting skills.

Best wishes to you.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I have an 18 month old who has been "singing" specific songs since he was 14 months old. He doesn't say the words clearly, but you can understand what song he is singing by the tune. I was waiting in line at a store when he was 15 months old and he was singing the Barney song "I Love You, You Love Me" and the woman in line behind us said "He's singing the Barney song! How old is he?!" She was shocked that he was singing a real song. He sings that song and a few others. Also, he sings himself to sleep frequently with his own "songs." I only just realized that maybe this is early for a child. He started walking early too--right before he turned 8 months. Do you have any suggestions for cultivating his seeming musical ability? I am not at all musically inclined, so I have no idea what to do to help nurture this possible gift. Thanks for your help and best wishes for you and your children.

3:30 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

Hi Jessica, thank you for your comment.

Your child definitely sounds gifted to me. Precocious development is associated with high intelligence.

There must be enough music in his environment for him to pick up on. I would ensure that there was music present.

He is too young yet for proper musical instruments (they require too much coordination and he is too small) but I would make sure he had something to make a noise with, since that would probably interest him.

When he is large enough, I would give him a choice of instruments and let him choose one or more that he likes the sound of. You will probably have to hire a music teacher...and just see how he develops. Don't force the issue: let his love of music be the guide. If he is to be a musician, he will let you know by what he chooses to do.

Best wishes on raising such a special child.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

does tiarnan still singing before sleep now?

9:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

He has grown out of that...but he still likes music and will tinkle with anything that makes a musical his underlying interest is still there. We will see what happens.

2:48 PM  
Anonymous Sophia said...

Dear Valentine,

I recently had an encounter with the GEP branch in Singapore and I totally went thru what you did. They are so myopic in their points of view and are stubborn to be more adaptable. They are a selfish group of people who have no idea how to nurture talent.

My child, assessed as Gifted had to plod thru a system which is stifling and unchallenging.

And I have to fight for a broader more stimulating curriculum cos the "educators" have no idea how to do this.

It's a great pity.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Sophia, the GEP are a bunch of idiots. I find them most thick headed, stubborn, ignorant, foolish, unwilling to listen and generally misinformed about the possibilties inherent in a gifted child. They are completely the wrong people to be in charge of such children.

I am sorry to hear of your experience...but I am, at the same time, unsurprised.

I noted that they just didn't want to listen to what the parents had to say. They were very dismissive of our insights into our son. They thought that they knew better...when they knew nothing at all.

What were they not willing to do for you?

Thanks for your comment. Best wishes on finding the right environment for your gifted child.

By the way, we gave up on the GEP and turned our backs on them: it was the only realistic option.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous sophia said...

Dear Valentine,

I wanted my kid to skip a level and move on to the next as she is already doing work way above her level. After I submitted the documents, they sat on it for 2 weeks and upon my prodding finally looked at it. Then, despite the assessment, which resulted in putting her on the spectrum of gifted plus all the references suggesting level skipping, they said no and said that "proviions" will be made to broaden her horizons. When I asked what provisions, they gave no examples.I was so totally pissed at their ridiculous perspectives or lack thereof.

Now, I have insisted that the school do something to enrich her and of course I have to do the rest at home with her thru enrichment activities. But schooling becomes a futile exercise.

My encounter with them took place last week so I am still really angry at their inability to wake up. Unfortunately, they are all the same...rigid and myopic. It's a frustrating situation for us parents.
Are your gifted children in goverment schools?

8:45 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, our children are in government schools (well plus kindergarten, as relevant). However, their needs are not met in school, they are met at home. School serves little purpose. Ainan is at Singapore Polytechnic as well (doing Chemistry).

GEP don't like to let children skip grades. They don't like to make special provision. They do, however, like to block parents' initiatives. We found them highly obstructive: they actually prevented things from happening that we had arranged for Ainan, by interfering with them.

I wouldn't expect much from them if I were you.

Good luck...and thanks for the detail on your experience.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous sophia said...

best of luck to you and your kids as well.

young talent must be nurtured or else runs the risk of being lost.

we are doing our best for our child who loves music and languages.

My second, a 4 year old currently does puzzles of 150 pieces, does addition and reads books independently and even writes. Also has a flair for languages.

I really hope that they will have the opportunity to bloom.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I hope everything goes well for you Sophia and your gifted offspring. Please do not expect much from the GEP...I don't think they have the right intentions about the children that come to them. Their agenda seems to be something other than helping the kids to blossom (God knows what it is, but do note that they keep thick files on all the kids under their purview: lots of "observations" are made and teachers have to write reports on the kids everytime they speak to them. You get my drift...)

Best wishes.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Faylyn Jean Hillier said...

This post is obviously older, but in the hopes that you are still responding to comments, I will comment anyway.

I have a nearly five year old daughter who is gifted, as I was in childhood. She is an artist and loves to paint. She spoke her first word at 6 months old (kitty- we also tend to be animal lovers), she was "reading" letters on signs and posters at the age of 1 1/2.

We recently had a son, who is currently 4 1/2 months old. For about a month now, when he is upset and wants me, he cries/screams something that sounds very much like Momma. My husband tells me that I'm just imagining it, but my daughter hears it as well. Also, yesterday, I was playing my flute and my son started singing (it sounded like whining really) the exact melody I had been playing after I played it.

I've been trying to find information about the signs of giftedness and/or prodigy in babies, and your blog is the closest I've come to finding my answers.

I also read your post about inheriting genius and I've been wondering something for a while. My mother has cerebral palsy, autism, and a host of other issues. She was fairly high functioning when she was younger, but couldn't handle raising me or holding a job. I was tested as a genius when I was 12, skipped a grade, and have always been quite intelligent (except for when playing video games, as I was reading and experimenting with mixing chemicals in my kitchen when other children were playing them). I pick up on things easily and get frustrated trying to explain things to others.

My question is, how is it that my mother could have so many mental challenges and I ended up being a lower level genius (IQ is between 154 and 163 depending on which test I go with- I've been tested twice)?

1:12 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Firstly, I would say I would believe in the possibility of your children speaking so much earlier than others think likely. Our children did. So, don't be put off by others' doubts.

Secondly, genetic inheritance is a random process. You are a mixture of both your mother AND your father. Thus, if your mother has certain issues, that does not mean you will have them too. You received half of her genes - you could have missed out entirely on any negative ones, and be left only with the more positive ones. Perhaps your mother's illnesses masked a very intelligent woman. Without the illnesses, which you did not inherit, her gift to you was much better than you would hope.

Certainly, from the way your children are, there seems to be giftedness running in your family. Both of your parents would have contributed to this - and so will your husband.

I would say this: stop doubting what is obviously there (the giftedness) and start enjoying it. I would also suggest you open yourself to the idea that your mother probably had talents that were masked by her illnesses...

Good luck.

11:08 AM  

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