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 +

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Prodigy and Savant: the difference?

Last week, someone arrived on my site, after a search for "the difference between prodigy and savant". Such a question is, no doubt, neurologically complex and from what I gather, there is much research to do, but I will point out a basic difference which is evident from any observation of them.

My son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, is a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and two months. It is very clear in listening to him speak that he has an innate advantage in higher level cognitive skills: reasoning, creativity, logic, association, insight, memory for that which interests him, speed of learning, and the like. He also has a profound knowledge and understanding of the sciences that interest him. It doesn't take much conversation with him to realize these things. He is also able to think for very long periods on the matters of his interest. His concentration on a problem is such that it cannot be disturbed even by determined interruption. These characteristics are not only obvious but unusual. How does this differ from a savant?

A savant has an overdevelopment of LOWER level thinking skills: rote memory and habit formation. They do not display heightened thinking capabilities in higher level skills - in fact, they are usually notably impaired in these areas. Many scientists theorize that Savant Syndrome is a form of right brain over-compensation for left brain damage, and there is some evidence to suggest this is so. The gifts of a savant may be in areas such as calculation or music, and they often show uncanny degree of memory for their particular area. The fact that prodigies may also be found in maths and music and may also show very good memory may cause confusion between them, but I don't think anyone who had become acquainted with both categories of people, would be confused in the least. The savant shows an island of ability emerging from a general disability (usually); the prodigy shows a great gift set against a general intellectual function that usually reflects this high level capacity - they are not impaired, but gifted.

A study of maths prodigies using brain imaging techniques revealed something very interesting. The prodigies, while thinking, had levels of right brain activity six or seven times higher than the normal controls set the same task. This is a massive difference and shows that prodigies have unusual brains that operate differently from the non-prodigious: it is not just a matter of knowing more about something than others - there is a very real neurological difference at work.

It is curious that savants, too, are noted for right brain skills - but theirs are of the lower level variety and do not reflect higher level thinking at work. Furthermore, the prodigy does not show impaired left brain function, unlike the savant.

In summary: prodigies show a higher level thinking gift; savants show a lower level thinking gift. Both kinds have unusual brains that differ from the norm, visibly, in functional brain images.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, or his gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of gifted education, 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 @ 10:32 AM 


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