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, January 11, 2007

A prodigy and his inner world

We all, in a trivial sense, inhabit a world of our own. However, in a very real sense, Ainan inhabits a world of his own. By this I mean, that his focus on his own thought is so intense, at times, that the outer world makes no impression on him. This is sometimes evident in conversation. One might be talking about something to him, and he will remain silent, until after some interval, he comes out with what he has been thinking about: almost always something scientific, either chemical or physical, and usually very detailed, or profound, and often surprising.

What I have found characteristic of this state is that it cannot be perturbed. Nothing can distract Ainan from his own train of thought. I might be trying to tell him something scientific, which I think might interest him - but, if he has already started his own train of thought, nothing can take him away from that. So, a conversation when he is in this frame of mind is a very one-sided affair - or should I say, it has two sides that don't meet: his and mine. When he has decided upon an inner topic, that line of thought will continue despite whatever happens in the outer world. At times, he will throw out a conclusion or a remark which makes it clear that he has made further progress in his line of thought. The outer world provides no interruption to him at all.

This capacity for deep concentration on one's own thinking is characteristic of many adult geniuses of history. It is a necessary prerequisite for solving difficult or complex problems that one should be able to focus on them to the exclusion of all else. This tendency in those children who might one day be geniuses, should be understood. It is not rudeness that leads such a child to tune an adult out - it is their inner focus on the subjects of their interest - the chosen topics of their present thought. When the reverie is over, the child will attend to whatever it is that you wish them to attend to - but while the reverie persists, it should be allowed to continue uninterrupted, after all what is the child doing but what any parent might wish them to do: thinking hard on something.

So, when Ainan takes it upon himself to think of some scientific matter, even if I have urgent need to communicate something to him, I try to give him the space and time to think through whatever it is that he ponders. I understand that this tendency is one of the basic skills of any genius, in any discipline - and it should be allowed to grow in peace.

At school, such an inner focus, might look like "dreaminess" to an uninformed teacher who does not know the child well - and might lead to various forms of punishment to attempt to "shake the child out of it". That is a big mistake. If a child displays this characteristic it is probable that they have found something much more interesting to think about than the contents of the lesson. My own feeling is that they should be left to think it through, particularly if they have shown themselves more than able to cope with the curriculum as it is.

So, if you have a child who is a deep thinker - let them be. They are practising one of the fundamental skills of all geniuses, everywhere. Maybe, one day, such a child might grow up to be an adult genius, rethinking the world in their wake.

(If you would like to read more about Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, a scientific child prodigy, 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 @ 5:39 PM 


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