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 +

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The peer group of a prodigy: intelligent adults.

A prodigy has no peer and no peers. That is, by definition, they are outstandingly unusual, for their age, in the sense that no-one is better - and also they have no peers, of their own age. This is both the beauty and the tragedy of the progidy. What they can do is wonderful to behold - and no-one who has never met one, and held a discussion with one, has any idea of how marvellous they are - but it is also tragic, in that their very gift tends to isolate them. If they are to talk of their true mind, none of their age peers can understand.

I wrote of Mensa of Singapore and our experience with trying to introduce Ainan to them. It wasn't a happy one: their minds were closed to even considering the idea for reasons known only to them. However, a reader has alerted me to an interpretation of this that I had not seen: the implication that a Mensa member was Ainan's peer. This is not so. It is not so for any prodigy. Why is this? Well, Mensa selects the top 2% of the population, in IQ terms. That is they select one out of every fifty people. That isn't particularly rare. A typical school of a thousand children would expect to have 20 potential members. Yet, does a typical school have 20 prodigies? No. A typical school has no prodigies at all. In fact, a typical city might not, either. True prodigies are very rare. How rare, I do not know...except to say that in my search for them, I found very few true examples. The rarity value, then, of a prodigy's abilities is far higher than 1 in 50 - and so Mensa members are not the peers of prodigies. Is a high IQ enough for prodigy? It is not. It is just the beginning of the requirements. A prodigy must have an area of excellence, that is highly developed, far beyond age expectations - and a high IQ doesn't guarantee that, though it may help. Special talents or gifts are not really the province of IQ. IQ measures reasoning ability in a subset of human thinking capabilities. It is not enough, in itself, to define a genius. If it were, the world would be filled with geniuses - and it is not. They remain rarely found - and rarely welcomed.

Who then are the peers of prodigies? In terms of performance, intelligent adults are the peers of a prodigy. Why do I say this? Well, it is only intelligent adults who can converse with a true prodigy on a level that the prodigy would wish. Intelligent children are not developed enough to do so, in general. The other child would have to be a prodigy in the same area of interest, for the conversation not to be one-sided. This is not a likely situation.

So, who then are to be the friends of a prodigy? I recommend a mix, for the full development of social skills. There should be bright children of their own age - and bright older children, too, as well as adults who specialize in the area of the child's interest. This would provide them with the relief of an outlet for their thoughts. Care must be taken in the choice of adult friends, for many reasons beyond the obvious. An adult can easily be "inspired" by a prodigy, for instance. So, ensure that they are the type to respect the prodigy's ideas...not adopt them.

Are adults the ideal intellectual companions of the prodigy? No...for though they may have more experience than the prodigy it is likely that the prodigy has greater thinking power, than even a bright adult. Yet, highly intelligent adults, experienced in the prodigy's speciality, are the best peer group available. They will have to do.

Are there any prodigies or parents of prodigies reading this? If so, please get in touch and relate your own experiences and solutions to the difficulties you have faced. Thanks.

(For a particular prodigy, Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy, and his gifted brothers, go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:20 PM 


Blogger Liquidc2 said...

It was said I was a musical child prodigy. I remember when the movie Little Man Tate was released, how well I could relate to the character named Fred. I was recently diagnosed with Asperger's which seems to fit well. However, I still struggle to find a peer group or a way to simply coexist in a world that is hostile towards advanced minds...unless of course they can make moeny off of me.

I understand this struggle and I can say that adults do not make good peers when you are a child prodigy. This is because I experienced adults thinking I was faking it by keenly memorizing rare facts (which they would then test me using vocabulary I did not really comprehend) or they were threatened by me. As I got older I learned my autism effected my ability to handle peoples emotions (especially adults) and is also why I got caught in the vocabulary. Quiet or silent does not equal stupid.

What dod work for me is my teacher ms. Stefanie. She was patient, loved me to the core, and allowed me the freedom to self-express. She guided me and never tried to "train" me. Without her I would have surely died of severe depression.

Find your child a mentor like ms.stefanie. that I think is best.


3:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for sharing your own experience of prodigy.

In writing above, that adults make the best peer group for a child prodigy, I was referring to those rare adults who can connect to a gifted child and are not threatened by them. Like Ms. Stephanie. Many adults would, as you say, react as if threatened or act against the child to block their progress. This is not the kind of adult I had in mind.

What is needed, as you have demonstrated, is an adult secure in themselves with a big heart willing to give to the child in this difficult position. You were fortunate to find such a one. I am seeking such a mentor for Ainan - but feel I will have to be careful to ensure that the person truly means well.

Best wishes Laura - and thanks once again for writing of your experience.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Panagiotis Emmanouil said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Panagiotis, for your comment.

It is good that you have found something to interest you deeply. I wish you luck on your projects...and have one piece of advice: if you are doing something new, beware that others might take your work from you, without payment. Study also copyright and patents...

Best of luck.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Lotus said...


As a parent, I sometime am afraid to talk about my child exceptional ability to other parents. I'm afraid others think I'm showing off when I'm actually suffocating with frustration hoping that someone can help me to help her.

Till today I am still trying to find someone who can advise me what to do.

My daughter is a very sensitive and insightful child. She id very prolific in writing poetry and you can see her eyes oozing with delight when she talks about them. Over the last school holiday, she wrote 30 poems. I think her work was exceptionally good for a child her age.

My problem is I am not much into poetry and it is the same for most people here in Singapore so her peers do not appreciate her work or even want to comment about them. I have asked people from the MOE GEP branch for help to advise me what to do. But they don't even reply. I see my daughter lonely and not able to talk about her interest at the level she wants. We try to talk and discuss her poem with her but we know she need friends who have the same interest. The problem about literary talent is that it is not as common as Math/Science talents.

Thank for listening. I feel comforted that you can understand my anxiety and helplessness.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Lotus,

Thank you for your comment. I am sorry I haven't been able to answer it sooner.

Firstly, you should understand that the GEP is not that interested in unique children. We had a similar disinterest from them. What they are interested in is children who can conform to their idea of "nation building"...future cogs in the machine. A poet is not part of that plan, so they will not support you or find your child of any interest - so don't expect anything from them.

What you must do is provide warmth, support and encouragement for your daughter yourself. Take an interest in her poems. However, be careful with how you present her work to others. There can be jealousy. That being said, please make a point of keeping her poems safe. Perhaps one day you could publish some of them. Keeping them safe will allow that to happen some day.

Get her books to read. If she likes books. Maybe she will find literature and poetry of interest. Allow the chance to explore the world and write about it. It takes many years to develop a really strong writing gift...let her have that time. She may start with poetry but end up with drama, or novels or anything else...just give her the chance and the space she needs to grow.

I understand that you are in Singapore. That is a pity. Singapore is the LEAST UNDERSTANDING COUNTRY WHEN IT COMES TO ARTISTIC GIFT. You will have to do this alone, most probably. I don't know of any literary groups in Singapore...perhaps an internet search will find some for you. Try looking for them, since it might be good for your daughter to be exposed to people who actually like literature.

Good luck.

7:52 PM  

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