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 +

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tiarnan and the Christmas Tree

Tiarnan is now eleven months old. It is a simple matter to realize that this is his first Christmas. He had never seen a Christmas tree before, but when he did, he was most taken by it.

Our tree was rather tall - about eight feet - in dark green plastic, real trees being both expensive and unimpressive in Singapore being, generally, on the small side. We had decorated it in baubles and sparkling chains - and, most interestingly, from Tiarnan's point of view, in coloured lights that flashed on and off in varying rhythms.

On the first day that he saw it, he stood for a long time, studying it, looking it up and down, a happy, bedazzled expression on his face. When it came to time to go to bed that night, he did something very sweet: he waved his hand at the tree, in rhthym to the flashing lights. This could have had two meanings - one to say goodbye, the other to recognize the blinking of the lights, since his hand was opening and closing in their rhythm.

Yesterday, he saw his beloved tree again. We had taken off all the baubles and the lights and the chains - and packed its branches upwards ready for storage. Again, he looked long at it. This time however, he was not impressed. He shook his head emphatically from side to side - as if to say: "That is not how it should be." I think he was a little forlorn: his beloved tree was no more.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:39 PM  0 comments

Friday, December 29, 2006

Fintan's Christmas request

We had an unusual Christmas day.

We took a day trip to Sentosa Island - which is a resort island near Singapore, across a bridge, in fact. It is Singapore's theme park island. The entire island consists of attractions nestled in landscaped gardens and manicured beaches. There are all sorts of theme park like rides. Singapore is a small island, but it makes every effort to be self-contained, so Sentosa is designed to fulfil the desire in people for a resort experience - and it is no coincidence that an "Integrated Resort" (for that read Casino complex) is soon to be built on the island.

We only took two rides: the "Luge" and a cable car. The Luge I enjoyed - it was like a bobsleigh run, without the danger - for velocities were lower and it wasn't in a narrow channel, but a wide, downward sloping road. Under the force of gravity, we rolled past one another, jostling for position, as if in a race. I had Fintan on my cart, Syahidah had Ainan on hers - a boy nestled between our protecting legs, lest we bumped into something or someone.

The cable car, however, was a different matter. It looked innocent enough at first, with the car floating only about ten feet above the ground, shortly after it left the starting platform. Each "car" was actually an open bench, attached to the cable above by only - and this detail worried me - the friction of a single biting grip from a single arm. Looking at it, I couldn't help but notice that, in theory, a large enough weight could rotate the grip and free the car from the cable.

We were asked to sit down on either side of the boys. I sat on the right most side, Syahidah on the left most side, Ainan on my inside, Fintan on hers. The bench was open to the sky and to the ground below, but for a single bar that came over the top and settled at belly height in front of us. We were encouraged to hold the bar - and, it being the only thing to hold onto, we did.

At first I didn't feel uncomfortable, because the ground was quite close below. However, the car soon began to rise, and rise, and rise - until the trees were quite far below us and the distance to the ground lookedly awfully unsurvivable. I felt then the precariousness of my position in the car. Looking down I saw the ground far below, trees, cars and a road passing by below. Looking up I saw that only a firm grip by a metal hand on a cable held us in place. Note that the grip was not a closed loop, but open on the underside - so a strong enough force on the car, could rotate it free. In between we sat, on an open bench, with only a single bar between us and what lay below.

Oddly, the car was tilted towards me, since I am well over twice the weight of my wife. So we proceeded, high above the land below, at an angle determined by my excessive frame.

I have painted the experience as it felt, for a reason. Towards the end of the trip, at one of the highest points above the ground, Fintan, three, who is ever courageous, looked straight down at the ground below, and announced: "I want to go again, Daddy."

He did. I didn't.

(If you would like to read more about Fintan, or his gifted brothers, including scientific child prodigy Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, or baby Tiarnan, aged eleven months, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:32 PM  1 comments

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Civil Engineer and "Godzilla"

On December 21st 2006, Ainan conceived a lego project: to design a bridge, using lego, that would take his weight, sitting on its mid-section.

He proceeded to try various designs, sat on them, watched them break, tried variations and improvements until he had designed three bridges, of differing design, which were able to sustain his weight.

When I returned home, he had laid the bridges out in a winners' parade, numbering them 1st, 2nd and 3rd. It made quite a nice sight and were it not for the absence of space in my camera, I would have taken a photo of his structural designs, which were interesting in the way they played with the force on the bridge so as to dissipate it. I told him to keep them until I could take a photo.

Then Tiarnan, who was ten months, saw the bridges and grew very excited. He hurried towards them and one by one, picked them up and broke them into dozens of pieces. Watching him, I thought he seemed like some infantile Godzilla, destroying the city beneath his giant feet. It was funny and sad (for Ainan's work was being wiped out without record). He managed to wreck the bridges in a minute or two.

It just goes to show: a bridge may be sturdy enough to take the greatest weight - but that is no proof against a determined baby.

(If you would like to read more about Ainan Celeste Cawley, my scientific child prodigy son, aged seven years and one month, and his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:14 PM  0 comments

The Taiwanese Earthquake and the Internet

Owing to the Taiwanese earthquake on Tuesday there are considerable limitations on internet connections out of Singapore. (98% of all communictions through the Taiwanese route have been lost). My connection is very slow, unreliable and sometimes unavailable. I would like to apologize in advance, therefore, if I am unable, in the estimated two to three weeks needed to repair the undersea cables, to post on any particular day. It is my intention to keep up with my usual posts - access today took ages and was unavailable I don't know what service will be like. Thanks, in advance, for your understanding.

My condolences to the families of those who lost their lives - or were otherwise seriously affected.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:07 PM  0 comments

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The meaning of a shadow

On the 22nd of December, Tiarnan, ten months, was being held by his mother. Both were lit from behind by an incandesent bulb.

Syahidah, his mother, waved her hand in the air, as if to say goodbye, throwing a shadow on the wall. Tiarnan looked at the shadow of the moving hand, pointed and said: "Bird". To him, the waving of a hand, in shadow, had resembled the flapping of a bird's wing.

Tiarnan shares this visual characteristic with Fintan - both are associative in their thinking, especially visually.

This moment recalled another time, several months ago, while in a taxi. He had peered out of the window and announced: "Bird, bird" as we passed some birds by the side of the road. He is rather fond of them and their flying ways.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:31 PM  0 comments

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gifted isolation or gifted community?

Most gifted people, children or adults, live fairly isolated lives. This is because of the statistical reality of their gifts. If you are more gifted than one in a thousand people, not many of the people you meet in life will be comparable. If you are more gifted than one in ten thousand, you may not encounter any in your life who are as gifted as you - except if you frequent those places where gifted people concentrate. If you are more gifted than one in a million people, it is almost certain that you will never encounter anyone "on your level" in your lifetime. Giftedness can, therefore, be a lonely affair.

Yet, not all is as it seems. One can have a conversation with anyone, on your level, or not. Furthermore, the "gifted communities" that might be available may not be supportive at all. I encountered one, or should I say one encountered me - an American message board, devoted to the extremely gifted - and too many of the comments received about me and my family were highly unpleasant. This would have been poor behaviour coming from anyone - but from a "gifted community support group" it was entirely inappropriate. However, it taught me a lesson: gifted community is not all that it should be and not all that it purports to be.

Before I go on, I should say that some boards do appear to be more friendly places - so there is great variety in the "gifted community support groups" out there. Some will be supportive, some will be jealous, hostile, embittered places that no-one would want to be.

The question you need to answer is: are you happy in your isolation - or do you need "community"? For many, who are honest with themselves, will discover that they have found happiness without the need for "community". Many gifted people express their talents through some complex productive activity - be it creative or not - and it is in this activity that their giftedness is manifest. There is less need for them, therefore, to have a "gifted community" to relate to. There is another issue which you should note. Contact with the gifted community can alter some parents' perspective on their children in ways which are negative. For instance, what if a gifted parent of a moderately gifted child encounters a support group for the profoundly gifted? How is that parent going to feel when he or she learns that their child is not only not so gifted after all, but, in comparison, seemingly not gifted at all? Are they going to be disappointed in their child? Are they going to expect less of them? Before such exposure to the wider gifted community, such a parent may have been happy with their smart kid and have looked forward to a bright future for them. Afterwards, they may not be so happy, nor have such high expectations. Yet, they are wrong to do so, for what it is very important to realize is that how your child will fare in life is NOT dependent on their relationship to the gifted community - but on their relationship to the NON-gifted community. You see, a moderately gifted child is going to become a moderately gifted adult - and, as such, will be smarter than almost everyone they meet. They will be smart enough to succeed in most occupations - and will be able to make a very good contribution in life, in whatever endeavour they choose. In fact, the moderately gifted child may grow into a better adjusted adult, who is consequently more productive, than their more gifted fellows - for the more gifted one is, the harder it can be to adjust to the world as it is.
(The ideal range of giftedness is an IQ 125 to 150 according to one estimate. This is the range of best fit to the environment, that allows most effective use of one's talents, without communication problems between the gifted person and their environment. A moderately gifted person, at IQ 130, say, fits into that range. So does a highly gifted person, at IQ 145.)

A parent must not lose sight of the reality of their child, in comparison to the wider world. Comparison to the gifted community is misleading. You see, the gifted community comprises a very unusual group of people. They are not the wider world. How successful your gifted child will be is dependent on their merit relative to the wider world - and not in comparison to the gifted community. If your child is smarter than the average person, then they will have better opportunities than the average person. It is irrelevant to know that there is some kid much smarter than your own - because that kid is not really the competition for your child, in most endeavours. There are too few extremely gifted children for them to be considered competition for most endeavours - there are just not enough of them to go around.

Contact with the gifted community may produce a lack of appreciation of your child's specialness, by confronting a parent with many children who are as gifted or more gifted than your own. In such an environment, you may UNLEARN an understanding of how special your child is. Your child is special in relation to the average child. In the wider world, it is the average child that your own will encounter most often. It is the average child who will fill many workplaces. These are the ones to measure your child against. Measurement against a child who is one in a million is laughably irrelevant - because there are so few such children and they cannot, in their numerical paucity, ever be competition for your child, in any real sense. Measurement against them, therefore, can only have negative effects - for it may reduce your appreciation of what is special in your own child.

Any gifted parent of a gifted child, therfore, should cherish the specialness of their child in relation to the world as a whole. Gifted community is for those who feel a need to be among those like themselves - and that is an understandable motivation. But if you do venture into the gifted community, choose well among those available - some are positive places, some are not. Furthermore, understand that no matter where your child is on the gifted scale, they remain special in TRUE terms, because they are unusual in relation to the wider world and the typical human. Any gifted child is equipped to do something special in the world, given a chance to grow and show themselves. That some are more equipped than others, does not alter the fact that all gifted children are more equipped than is usual.

We are not connected to a gifted community here, in Singapore - but we are quite happy in our isolation. We have each other and we have an understanding of our children in relation to the wider world. Our children are accepted by the non-gifted community and we have not had hostility on the personal level. On the whole, that is a lot better than what we encountered on that "gifted community support group". I would say, therefore, in conclusion that gifted isolation can actually be superior to gifted community - it really depends on which community you encounter and what you need from them. We enjoy our quiet lives, here, with no actual direct contact with a gifted community: you can too.

(If you would like to read of my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, and his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:23 PM  9 comments

Christmas in Fintan's words

Fintan, three, had something to say after opening his Xmas presents:

He let back his head and bawled at the top of his voice: "Thank you Christmas!"


(If you would like to read more of Fintan, or his gifted brothers, including Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, or Tiarnan, please go to: I also write of gifted education, intelligence, IQ, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, baby genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 1:21 PM  0 comments

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas to the world

Merry Christmas to everyone, everywhere.

When I was a child, there was often snow around Xmas, but now that I live on an equatorial island, I am going to the beach.

Today will, therefore, be a time of sand and sun beneath the palm fronds, with the sea lapping at our feet. An odd Xmas for one brought up in England and Ireland...but it is to be my family's this year.

So, however you spend your Xmas, I wish you a merry one.


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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:18 AM  0 comments

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Fintan and the "Crocodile"

Fintan, three, is a very visual child. Sometimes this leads to surprising moments.

He was watching television with his mother, Syahidah, the other day and she began flicking through the channels, in rapid succession. She came to one channel and said, on seeing the image on the screen: "Oh look Fintan, this will be good, it is about a crocodile."

Fintan said, at once: "No mummy, that is not a crocodile, that is an alligator."

Syahidah stopped her channel hopping to let the channel play. Sure enough, a moment later the commentator referred to the creature as "an alligator".

How on Earth did he know and see the difference between them? Most adults I know wouldn't be able to distinguish them, at all. In fact, I don't think I could.

(If you would like to read more about Fintan or his brothers, including Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, seven, then please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 10:31 PM  0 comments

Policy on comment posts

This is a family blog: an innocent enough type of publishing exercise one would have thought. However, it has received a wide range of reactions. Some are kind and supportive. Some have been helpful in their advice - particularly one reader who has emailed me privately (she will know who she is) and I am thankful for that. Some express understanding and share their insights into gifted parenting. Some are thankful to me for the help that I have rendered them. However there is another category of posters I need to address. Some are argumentative and some are critical. Some are negative and some are simply angry. A small percentage of posters can only be described as hostile - or worse. I have no idea why: they really take exception to my effort to communicate my experience of my children and their gifts. Most of them appear to be from the land of free speech (the US), as far as I can gather from their IP addresses. All the others so far noted, who have been hostile, come from advanced democracies (such as Holland) where free speech is the norm, and people are supposed to be allowed, indeed encouraged, to speak their mind. It seems that the posters have not absorbed the culture in which they reside - or perhaps that culture is not truly as free as advertised. I don't know which - I can only observe what they do.

As I have said, this is a family blog. My children read it on occasion. My wife does too - and my friends. I cannot therefore allow the posting of hostile comment: it not only upsets me, but upsets my family and friends, it they should read it. Therefore the policy of this blog, on comments, henceforth will be to post all the humane ones, and none of the inhumane ones. The divide is clear because I find that the negative posters tend to the extreme: they stand out by the excessiveness of their expressions and statements. None of this type of post will be posted on my blog - it would not be fair to me, to my children, my wider family nor my friends. Furthermore, I don't think it is fair to my readers to be reminded of all the hate there is in this world. I want to see a world of kindness in which all men and women treat each other well. By enforcing this rule, I make a contribution to that kinder world, here on this blog. Thanks.

(If you would like to read about my scientific child prodigy son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, or his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:07 PM  2 comments

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