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 +

Friday, September 22, 2006

Is genius prophetic?

Ainan Celeste Cawley is my six year old son. I have been accustomed in these six years to being surprised by him, but as is the way of it, being accustomed to it, means I am no longer surprised. Sometimes, however, I find myself being so, despite having come to expect the surprising from him.

Six months ago, Ainan said to me that he thought that instead of cars, you could have vehicles propelled by pure radiation. His reasoning went thus: "Dad, light is made of particles and they move very fast and so, if they move away from the vehicle, at the speed light, it should, according to Newton's Laws, push the vehicle in the opposite direction."

Now, I had not taught him any physics - and there were - and are - no physics textbooks (yet) in the house. But he had somehow acquired an understanding of Newton's Laws and deduced that light, being particulate in character in some sense (yes, he knows it behaves like a wave, too), should exert a force against an object from which it is shone. The deduction was his: I am sure that no-one and nothing had told him this.

I went: "uh-uh", and explained that the pressure from light would be very weak. He said only: "I think you could do it."

Six months later, I have read of something that says he is right. A scientist has discovered a way of using microwave radiation - part of the electromagnetic spectrum, like visible light - to develop thrust. The first proposed application is as a rocket thruster to replace ion drives. It captures microwave radiation in a guide, and holds it there, developing forces in a relativistic manner, that I am not going to attempt to explain.

The scientist went onto explain that he envisaged scaling up his device, in power, so as to "allow cars to hover and fly without wings and without wheels."

That sounds very like the prophecy of a six year old, I know.

Genius is prophetic, at least in one sense. Even if the genius is not able to see the future directly, they are able to look at the present and envisage what the future could be. In that sense, then they are not so much prophets, as architects of the future. It is a chicken and egg situation: which came first, the vision or the future?

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

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:37 PM  14 comments

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gifted children's education needs more provision, not less

For 22 years, Singapore has had something unusual for gifted children: a Gifted Education Programme. According to the Today newspaper of Singapore, however, dated September 21st 2006, this programme is to be phazed out, in two year's time.

So where are all the gifted children of Singapore to go? They are to be educated with other "very bright students" on an Integrated Programme. This is a new initiative designed, it seems, for a wider spectrum of bright students than the top 1% that had been selected for the Gifted Education Programme. No longer will students who opt for the Integrated Programme take O Levels, but they will proceed to A Levels without them.

This initiative may aid the gifted students in gaining better social skills, for there would be less tendency for them to be isolated from their fellows - but it might be at a price. There is the risk that the material, which would have to cater for a wider range of abilities, might not challenge them as much as before. It is easy to forget that there are gradations of giftedness: the brightest of the bright are as different from their gifted brethren, as those gifted children are from the average student.

Yet, at least Singapore is doing something for the gifted. Most countries do nothing at all. The gifted are assumed to need no special attention, since they are "bright" and so should be able to cope on their own. Yes, of course, they can do the school work well enough...but the school work is doing nothing for them. Unless the gifted are challenged at a level that matches their abilities, there is the risk that, over time, those abilities will decline from lack of stimulation. We will lose the gifts of the best of our children...and there are few greater tragedies than that.

Even if those abilities do not decline, they will not be developed...and that is much the same thing. Every country of the world should have special programmes to nurture the gifted...but do they? Does your country have them?

(For an introduction to the Cawley family, and Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy, in particular, as well as his gifted brothers Tiarnan and Fintan, go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 9:59 AM  6 comments

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Baby Tiarnan crawls downstairs.

Today Tiarnan Hasyl Cawley crawled downstairs, on his own, though watched carefully by his mother. He is eight months old, today, exactly. This follows his first crawling upstairs at five months and two weeks. Crawling downstairs is not easy: you should try it, yourself, adult or not - but be prepared to call an is really not easy at all.

If there is an award for "Bravery while crawling", I think he should get it. For the past three months he has assayed the stairs, mastering climbing it, quickly, after his first attempt...but, although he tried to crawl down it soon after, he would stop at the first step, after having placed his hands on the step below: you see, he had noted the problem - how not to fall down the stairs, head first.

Well, today he solved that one. He turned around and went down backwards. Hurrah!

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

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:27 PM  4 comments

Earliest walker, earliest talker, earliest runner

A cot is a place of safety for a baby. A place in which a baby may be placed and left alone, leaving the parents with the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the baby could not be anywhere else, but within its' cage-like bars.

This supposition used to be our own, too. But, when Ainan was eight months old, we would find him running about the house, after he had been placed in his cot. He would laugh when we saw him, knowing that he was being mischievous. Sometimes, he would then run back to his cot, and climb back in, as he had climbed out. At only eight months, he was athletic enough to climb into and out of his cot, at will.

Our naivety at our son's abilities was so great that when a representative of a child development company saw our four month old son crawling around the house and said: "You have a super baby!", we asked: "How do you know?" He was silent in reply, which in retrospect was unfair of him: it would have been nice to get an experienced perspective on our child instead of stumbling forward unawares, as we did.

At six and a half months, Ainan was walking confidently, freely and steadily, without difficulty. He was running by eight months. Note that the average child doesn't run until fifteen months. He moved from one level of achievement to another, and learned the new skill at high level, almost at once. He walked as if he had always walked, ran as if he had always run.

Is Ainan the earliest walker on Earth? We don't know...the information on the topic is sparse, but we haven't found an earlier example of motor development, on the net. It seems certain that he is the earliest runner, since that skill came very quickly upon the heels of walking. His brothers, too, are among the earliest walkers. Fintan Nadym Cawley, his brother of three, was crawling at six months and walking at eight months. Tiarnan Hasyl Cawley was crawling at four months and one week and started standing, while holding onto household objects, within two weeks. (Note that an average baby won’t do this until at least eight months.) He also began to crawl upstairs, unaided, at five months and two weeks, on the 6th July 2006. (Babies are typically twelve months old before they master stairs.) A week later he was able to squat down, in a controlled fashion, from a standing position. (An average baby tries this when they are nine or ten months.)

I have more detailed records for Tiarnan than for Ainan, because when Ainan was doing these things, we weren't really aware that they were remarkable: it was just the way he was.

Not only are they the earliest walkers, they are the earliest talkers, too: Ainan speaking his first words after a couple of weeks of life, Tiarnan in his second month. Again, we find no earlier example.

Any parent of a gifted child bears a responsibility to help them become whatever they can be: if my words can help some readers gain a perspective on their own gifted child, I would be pleased.

(For further posts on Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy, and his gifted brothers, go to:

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:13 PM  36 comments

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

First words of a child prodigy

Most parents remember the first words of their children: so long are they awaited, so welcome are they when they arrive. It was not so with Ainan Celeste Cawley, our first child. His first words came upon us so unexpectedly, emerging so suddenly from the brief silence of his early weeks that we didn't quite know how or whether to believe our ears.

Ainan was less than one month old, when he first spoke. Most children of his age cry if they have an unmet need, until we guess what it is. Ainan was generally silent and without tears. One day, in his first couple of weeks on Earth, he announced most clearly: "Eye - YAY!", which is the pronunciation of Air, the Malay for water. He said it clearly, and with concentrated effort. A bottle of water was brought to him, and he drank greedily, confirming that a need for water had been his desire.

Where and when had he learnt this word? How did he know how to control his tongue to pronounce it so clearly? We had no idea. He was our first child and we didn't know what was normal for a child - so we accepted it, but with the vague idea that perhaps, just perhaps, it was rather earlier than usual.

His second word was even more uncanny. Some days later, as I looked down on him in his cot, he made a noise: "POOOOOO!" He said, in a long-drawn out syllable. I failed to understand him, not expecting speech to have meaning at this age. So I did nothing. "POOOOOOOO!" He said again, more clearly and insistently. Again, I ignored him. He said it a third time, with desperation in it: "POOOOOOOOOOO!" Again, I didn't know what to make of it. So he began to cry in frustration. Finally, a little idea came to me. I undid his pampers...and what did I find there? A poo.

This illustrates one of the essential problems of parenting a gifted child: a failure to understand them. Even though I had been a gifted child and had become a gifted adult, I did not feel fully equipped to understand and anticipate the child I had created with my wife, Syahidah Osman Cawley. Every day brought us surprises, revealed to us the shallowness of our understanding.

Ainan's third word is a prophetic summary of the six year old scientific child prodigy he has become. I had come home after cutting my long hair and Ainan had not yet seen me. As I came down the stairs into the living room, where he was, he looked shocked, upwards at my head. "Whhhhhhhy?" He asked, in a long drawn out enquiry, his meaning and intention most clear. Why have you cut your hair? He had wondered.

He has been asking 'why?' ever since, in many different ways: but even though he had already spoken we were surprised to hear the query from one so young.

Six years later, his youngest brother, Tiarnan Hasyl Cawley, spoke his own first word, somewhat later than Ainan, at two months of age: "Dadda!" he said, proving himself, perhaps, to be a diplomat in the making.

(For many more posts on Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy, go to:

We are the founders of Genghis Can, a copywriting, editing and proofreading agency, that handles all kinds of work, including technical and scientific material. If you need such services, or know someone who does, please go to: Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:30 PM  57 comments

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