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, October 05, 2006

A talkative baby genius - verbal intelligence on show

The average age at which a child will speak three word sentences is 23 months. I use the word child, because three word sentences are not normally the province of babies. How early, however, may a gifted child speak them?

Tiarnan is very much a baby: he is but eight months old, however, he doesn't seem to know how little he is supposed to speak. It is the tendency of gifted children not to obey the limits we customarily expect of kids. That is what makes them gifted. This tendency is more so in those children who are of genius or prodigy status.

On September 23rd 2006, Tiarnan Hasyl Cawley saw his mummy wearing a green face mask. Seeing this he chased after her in concern, repeating, very clearly, as he did so: "I want mummy...I want mummy...I want mummy!" Now, we know enough about babies to know that three word grammatical constructions are normally far from their grasp. Here, however, was Tiarnan, speaking a three word sentence, clearly, and appropriately to the circumstances, with relevant meaning. He was just eight months old...a third of the age at which three word sentences are normally used.

What is notable about Tiarnan, is not just that he has spoken many different words since he was two months old and he first uttered the diplomatic choice: "Daddy!" to me...but that he uses them in grammatically correct sentences. It seems that a gifted child, at least in this case, is able to extract the rules of grammar very early from the speech around them.

It is too early to tell if Tiarnan is going to be a prodigy like his eldest brother but the signs are looking good and I am willing to place a large wager that to speak so well, so early is to signal verbal gift to come. Perhaps Tiarnan will be a writer, one day, or an actor. We will see.

He is already a prodigy in one sense, however: his precocious, early child development is prodigious. I will trace the development of this over time and we will discover if it heralds a more specific prodigy in the years ahead.

(For a guide to this blog, and posts on Tiarnan and his scientific child prodigy brother Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:11 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I regret not keeping a baby book for my now 8 yr old son. I recall my mother remarking that he spoke in sentences from the beginning, which was true. But I had never had a child before and was never around babies growing up and just assumed that he was a "bright" kid. I vividly recall becoming concerned that our next door neighbor's daughter -- who was older than my son -- wasn't talking. I told my husband that I wondered if something was wrong with her. In retrospect, she was just probably on a normal pace and my son was on the gifted pace. I have since found out that he is "profoundly gifted" -- whatever that means. But I wouldn't label him a prodigy.

Like you son, he asks provacative questions as well as questions to which I don't know the answer. When he was 6 he asked me if Hitler was Jewish? When he was 7 he asked me what thought was and said that he thought if might be made up of antimatter. Then he told me that antimatter was made of up charged protons, neutrons, etc. I had no idea what he was talking about. So although he may have been getting his philosophy mixed up with his science, he was definitely thinking. I read him "The Giving Tree" when he was three years old and he sobbed uncontrollably at the end. Perhaps that should have been a clue to just how much he was capable of understanding at such a young age.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your post.

You have raised three issues of importance. The first is that, as first time parents, we may not be aware that our kid is special or unusual: it will be taken for granted that whatever happens is the norm. With gifted children it can be far from the norm. It is only as we become aware of other children, that we gain a perspective on our child - and a better appreciation of their nature. I hope that my blog can help others understand that giftedness is unusual, and should be recognized as such. If we think it is "normal" we might not take the necessary steps to help our child adjust to a very different world.

Secondly, you have noted that being profoundly gifted - which is a very high iq description - does not guarantee prodigious behaviour. A prodigy is something else - and while high iq may be necessary for prodigy, it is not sufficient. There needs to be a specific talent present that corresponds to an adult domain - and it needs to be expressed at an adult level before the age of 11, for the child to be a prodigy. These requirements rarely occur in one person - and so prodigy remains very rare indeed.

Your third point regards sensitivity. This is perhaps the most important. People who do not know gifted children well do not appreciate how much more sensitive they can be than others - and how much more vulnerable as a result.

Good luck in raising your gifted child - and in helping him realize that the world is unlike him - and always will be. Yet, be happy about it!

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the parent of 2 young and rather gifted children myself. What I notice about my almost 4 yr old is that she has a thirst for knowledge and understanding. She could identify her alphabet before age 1, knew her 50 states a little after age 2. And at the tender age of 3 1/2 knows her 9 ( now 8) planets, the continents, months of the year, and is currently learning about the presidents. She already has a basic understanding of the parts of the human body and can do some early addition problems, all long before age 4. She amazes us every day. Our younger child (not yet 2) has had a grasp on language and spoke in full sentances before 15 mos old. She is extremely coordinated and has a mechanical edge on her sister. She too learned her alphabet very early and seems to be following in her sister's foot- steps.
The question is how to keep them interested and stimulated?

10:37 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your post. Yes, early recognition of alphabet is an interesting sign. Ainan began to do so at eight months.

I find that gifted children find their own things to do to occupy themselves: at least that is so with my children. Deep down, most children know what they want to do.

Best of luck with raising your gifted brood!

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When i started speaking at the age of 6 months i also spoke in sentences and was able to maintain conversation. I learned to read by myself when i was 1 1/2 with the simple question: what does it says here? then associating the word (as a picture) with the sound and the meaning, and then my brain would guess the rules of pronunciation. My parents didn't know i was learning to read, until a month later when i started reading everything aloud. I got a dictionary as a present for my 2nd birthday.
I was my parents first child and they thought that was normal...until it became too obvious it was not.
I loved literature ever since (reading an average of 60 books a year), i was also good at math (i learned calculus at the age of 7).
I'm glad to see that you care so much about your children i wish i could have had something similar... i lived in a 3rd world country with no special attention for gifted kids at schools, and my parents didn't know exactly what was best for me, they put me 3 years ahead in school and from the psychological and social point of view it was not the best thing to do, i faced the consequences when i was a teenager.

*Please excuse any mistakes in my written English. (I learned it by myself watching American TV when i was a 12 and learned to read it watching movies with subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired).
Learned French the same way.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your post regarding your gifted childhood. It is a pity that you didn't get the requisite support to blossom in the way you could have. Which third world country did you grow up in? What is your native tongue?

You still have great potential as a gifted individual. Don't let the lack of an ideal upbringing prevent you from achieving the success, in whichever area you choose, that is your due.

Ainan was our first child, too - and we did not truly appreciate the radically different boy he is, until we had a chance to compare his development with that of other children.

I would be interested in your reply.

Best wishes

11:06 AM  
Blogger anonshe said...

This is interesting. My mother told me I started speaking in grammatically correct sentences before I could crawl, at the age of six months. I would say "Please pass the butter," while in a bassinnette. I was probably repeating rather than actually asking for butter. It creeped out a dinner guest who wanted to know who the heck was talking.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your story Anonshe. To decide whether you were actually speaking sentences with intention, rather than repeating sentences heard, you should examine your environment at the time: was butter present? Was there a possibility of passing it? That would be a good start.

Whichever is the case, it showed good vocal control to be able to say such a thing.

Maybe your parents remember other stories of early speech...

11:57 PM  

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