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 +

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The quietest child is often the brightest

We all know of the quiet one, in a classroom - the one who watches and says little, who smiles to themselves at some inner thought, who looks upon the world with wise eyes but refrains from comment. What kind of child is this? Often, this child is the most gifted in the room.

There is a positive correlation between intelligence and introversion that is quite marked. Indeed, beyond an IQ of 160 fully 75% of all gifted children are introverted. This is quite a preponderance and speaks of a matter that is little discussed: the very personality of gifted children can make it difficult for them to fit in a school environment that seems only to think of the extraverted child.

A school is a place of crowds and communal demands, group activities and team sports. A school is for those who like social interaction en masse, popularity stakes and trendy cliques. School is not for the thoughtful child who looks on a deep, inner world rich in thought and feeling. School is not for the gifted, therefore.

It is widely known, amongst gifted people, that schools rarely cater for gifted children educationally. Such children are often under-challenged and feel bored by the school experience, working way below their abilities. Yet, there is another issue that is just as important: school doesn't, generally, make way for the introvert, who is often gifted, as well. School expects extraversion, "joining in", a love of the crowd. Why is this so? Well, we should be aware of a statistic: extraverts outnumber introverts three to one, worldwide. This means that three quarters of teachers will be extravert and so expect their students to be similar. Many teachers will even try to impose extraversion on introverted kids, seeing their introversion not as a personality difference, but as some kind of anomaly or psychological problem needing a "cure". They will try to enforce social togetherness on such a child, try to "draw them out of themselves", make them participate. The typical introvert will find this a kind of social torture, adding to their issues with the school environment.

Is this purely theoretical speculation on my part? Not at all. I see these forces at work with my own child, Ainan. He shows the introversion typical of a child as gifted as he is: he prefers quiet reflection, to raucous social interaction and has been described, by his new teacher as: "a quiet boy who doesn't say much...but I have seen him talk to his friends". It became clear in conversation with her that, after Ainan's new Principal had become aware of Ainan's precocious scientific gifts, that an unexpected reaction had occurred. Instead of concerning themselves primarily with his intellectual development, a directive had gone out to check up on him socially - to see how he interacted with other children. His form teacher had been explicitly instructed to monitor his social behaviour against what appeared to be an extravert ideal of gregariousness. How odd. It seems that unless one is a natural "joiner" then one is somehow unacceptable. This is a perilous attitude to take when the majority of gifted individuals are natural introverts. There is, it seems, a lack of understanding that introversion is an acceptable way of being and not an aberration to be corrected.

Ainan is quiet because Ainan is thinking. Is this to be hammered out of him by an educational system which values extraversion but fails to recognize introversion as just as valid?

The introvert values their inner world; the extravert the outer world. Which is more important? Well, it depends on what your value system is. If you value the creative productivity of your society's most gifted...this will arise from introverted minds. If you value the social cohesiveness that comes from highly gregarious people relating to each other, en masse, then that is a property of the extraverted. The world is dominated, numerically, by extraverts. Yet, no society can afford to be without its introverts, for from them comes most innovations and creative works. Without introverts, the world simply would not be as rich and complex as it is today.

So, if you see a shy child who prefers to work alone on matters that interest them...let them be. Don't think you have to turn them into the "life and soul of the party": for nothing more abhorrent could be imagined by them.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and two months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, 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 @ 2:10 PM 


Blogger merry said...

I totally agreed with this. My very gifted daughter has been introverted all her life, and teachers have by and large found her hard to relate to - being, as you say, mainly extrovert types themselves. I have had some ludicrous conferences with them on the subject of, eg, why she doesn't enjoy team sports (very highly valued, more so than academic performance, in many UK schools - quite ridiculous.)
Fortunately her academic superiority to her peers did make her stand out enough that some grudging recognition was given to it, and it became less of a problem at senior school, from where she has just gained a place to study biological sciences at Oxford university. Her elder sister however was not so fortunate - not quite so highly gifted (IQ 140) and just as introverted, often overlooked.
This whole thing that those of lesser ability must be given extra resources while those above (the very ones with most potential and most to offer the country!) can be safely left is one that annoy sme greatly for its shortsightedness. I have even been told that there was no problem that the classwork was way below my daughter's standard because 'that's fine, the others will catch up given time'. Astonishing.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My heart cries out for your son(s).

Please, please, please do everything you can to keep him(them) at home.

The nurturing and leisure time to think, uninterrupted, that schooling at home can provide will be vital to sustaining their growth and mental health.

Please, please look out seriously for your children's mental health.

We have only anecdotal evidence of this, but in working closely with many high-functioning adults with 'mental illness,' every single one has been a highly sensitive, extremely intelligent individual. The single common factor has been uncommon emotional (and sometimes physical) trauma in their early years.

As I read your post about introverts at school, I had a sudden insight into potential harm of leaving him in such an unforgiving emotional environment.

I'm not nearly as clever as you are, so some connections take me a while (if I get them at all). But have you not written that you were worried about 'socialization' if you were to homeschool? Do you still worry about that? I wonder, would it not be better to be allowed to be an introvert, safely at home, choosing only those interactions that suit him best, rather than being forced into extroverts' mold of what is 'socially acceptable.'

7:39 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Anonymous

You have raised a serious issue: can the extravert environment of a school damage an introvert and lead to problems later on?

I think the likely answer is that it can. So, as a parent, one must bolster our children by teaching them how to deal with that environment - or take them out of it.

So far, my sons seem to be coping, though I think it is far from ideal for them.

You are right to suggest that homeschooling allows the child to choose their social contacts, rather than have them chosen for them. In this way, homeschooling could be said to be superior to schooling, socially - and paradoxically.

Thanks for your insightful comment.

Best wishes

9:46 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Merry

Thanks for your post, which I have not had time to answer, until now.

You have pointed to a peculiar failing of education systems almost everywhere: the focus on those who are impaired, combined with total indifference to the gifted. It doesn't take much analysis to realize that this is very costly to every society that does this - in terms of lost potential.

As for the idea that "they will catch up given time"...I find that really disturbing. The one who spoke it places no value at all on your children's gifts: their words dismiss them as having any value at all.

By the way: they won't "catch up" because your daughter will have moved on in the time being. As long as your daughter lives, those behind her academically will never catch up.

Best wishes on Oxford - and your other daughter's future, too. It looks like both will succeed...quietly!

9:52 AM  
Blogger Raz Chisisi said...

I would just like to commend you as a father. It's heartening to see such an involved, such a loving dad. Your boys need you to help them understand their talent, their genius would not manifest completely otherwise. And I know from first hand experience that without such support, their minds could've grown to be their own curse.
All my love, keep it up.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is warming to read that you understand the efforts I put into my sons - and the care. Some people, funny enough, overlook that!

You are right in thinking that to be born with a gift can make for a difficult life and it helps to have a parent who has insight into the situation. It would be great if every gifted child had that - but they don't always.

Your kinds words are much appreciated. Thank you.

6:09 PM  
Blogger Punn Siwabutr said...

Unfortunately, my boy Punn had proclaimed, “I’m the quietest one in class” just last week.

The school had just announced the appointment of a senior student in Year 13 as the Student President, and Punn suggested that they should have a student president for Year 4 too.

I asked him, “Do you want to run for President?” given his track record of challenging a 13 year-old friend on the educational website, previously, with both of them winning the coveted title on each of their own site, with votes from their own group of friends at school and online.

He said, “No. Probably Carlos will win for the boys – he’s the most popular. You know, I’m the quiet type. I usually observe and gather information.”

“Don’t you answer questions or participate in class?” pursued mum.

“I can’t, as I should be the last one to answer as I always have the right answer with the most detailed information. I don’t want to be a show-off, you know?” replied Punn.

My heart goes out to him considering he has such a keen sense of humor but have difficulty expressing himself among his age peers.

When he was in Year One, he was suggested to skip a grade by a Year Two teacher. He was coached by this well-meaning teacher to keep his ‘brightness’ to himself as she recognized it, and your parents recognized it. But the other teachers in school, they don’t like if you sound too smart in class or seem outspoken to the teachers.

Now that he’s eight, he’s been assessed by the school as reading at age 13 years old level.

It’s a big dilemma. Punn is learning to cope in school. With Carlos as his best friend, perhaps life is easier. Punn is getting all the support he can get at home and received good support from his home tutors. This year in Year 4, his class teacher initiated ‘project work’ on a weekly basis to be presented in any way the student feels best. I hope through this outlet, he may be able to find a voice.

Thanks for listening..

5:09 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Regarding Punn: I think he makes a smart politician...his best friend is the most popular boy in class: that will make him accepted by the others. I am glad for him that he has such a friend - it can only make it easier for him, at school.

If Punn is shy, Year President might be a little too daunting. There is nothing wrong with being quiet and or fact, it is often a mark that a lot is happening behind the quiet face.

Best wishes to you and Punn

10:23 PM  
Blogger Punn Siwabutr said...

Thanks for your kind words of support.

I wouldn't associate Punn with shyness though. He's gregarious and loves rock 'n roll!

He can laugh and play chase games along with his age peers, as long as he doesn't have to converse and share his inner soul with them.

I believe the social adaptability comes with maturity.

It's a dilemma to wish him to explore his potential to the fullest, while being able to have a happy childhood. I hope the balance between home and school that we are working on may be the best for him.

By the way, I'm trying to introduce the Stanford EPGY program that they have in Hwa Chong to Thailand. There are quite a number of gifted children here among the international schools, although I haven't met one who is profoundly gifted like your son.

Punn has been assessed as gifted twice, once when he was four, and again last year. But every child is special in his own way. Punn is an engineer, nuclear physicist, chemist, pianist, rock 'n roll star, creative writer, jet fighter pilot, chief lego designer, computer games designer, movie director, military strategist and world peace corp leader all at the same times.

Most importantly, he's a sweet and gentle but sometimes loud son that I'm blessed to be around with.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Gregarious and gifted is an uncommon combination, relatively speaking. Punn is lucky to have both traits since it will make his adjustment easier - as it seems to be doing. Shyness/introversion becomes ever more common, with higher degrees of giftedness, and it really dominates the upper reaches of giftedness.

It sounds like you are doing the right things for Punn. Some parents don't seem to know what to do - but you have taken a number of active steps to ensure that the right environment is in place.

He is clearly a child of many facets. There is no risk of him getting bored then.

Best wishes

12:48 AM  
Blogger EbTech said...

Are geniuses introverted by nature, or do they turn inward as a consequence of their vast mental separation? If geniuses with compatible personalities and interests happened to meet, could they accomplish more in collaboration than in isolation? Given the rarity of such chance meetings, I think it's hard to say.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Syahidah and Valentine said...

This is a chicken or egg type question, EbTech and so, essentially, pretty much unanswerable, in any easy way.

I would say, however, that it is both. My feeling is that they tend to be introverted and that this is reinforced because of the reaction of surrounding people ie. incomprehension, hostility, mockery, exclusion that so often greets the most gifted of people.

Re. geniuses meeting. Hmmm...true geniuses tend to like to think things through themselves and not rely on anyone else at all. However, it is possible that geniuses of complementary skills might be able to do things together that they could not do, so well, alone.

Yet, I should point out that I don't think cooperating geniuses works well for art of any kind...since that should really be the creation of one mind and one viewpoint (tv, film and theatre etc. excepted).

1:08 PM  

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