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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 +

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Do gifted children learn quietness?

Most people familiar with gifted children will have noticed that many of them are introverted. They prefer the riches of their inner worlds to the paucity of the outer world. Yet, how much of this is innate, and how much is learned behaviour?

As a young child, there was a marked discrepancy between me and the children around me. Looking back now, I see a gulf that was unbridgeable. At the time, I had no idea why the children were the way they were. Unsurprisingly, I thought of them as very simple creatures - though it appals me to write that childhood thought here, as an adult. Yet, I think it is important to introduce that thought - for perhaps many parents reading this, here, may have gifted children who are thinking that daily about the other children they meet. What effect does this disparity of mental development have on children?

One effect that could develop over time is the observed "introversion" seen in such children. If the other children don't understand when the gifted child speaks their mind, eventually such a child might very well learn not to speak their mind at all. A conditioned silence would develop which would be very hard to penetrate. Something of this kind happened to me as a child. I became an observer who didn't express the fullness of my thought: for I anticipated that such expression would be unwelcome. Perhaps the same phenomenon is unfolding in Ainan's life.

Did you feel this way as a gifted child? Do you think your gifted child feels this way? Is their reticence a learned behaviour? That is my theory anyway...your thoughts would be welcome.

(If you would like to read more of my gifted children, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and three months, a scientific child prodigy, Fintan, three and Tiarnan, thirteen months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:25 PM 

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anna Stanton said...

Hello Valentine

I studied psychology (some years ago) most of the literature decreed a quiet, introverted nature is largely innate in the sense that a person is born with a tendency towards introvert or extrovert. However I do believe the level at which one leans either way depends on experiences.

I do think Jack has been somewhat conditioned into silence. Although
he has always been very quiet. However there are times when I see him wanting to express a slightly more gregarious side. A while ago at a friend's wedding there were some children he didn't know chatting and playing around. He stood some way off watching them for about 5 minutes. He seemed to fix on one child at a time seemingly analysing them and their role in the group. Eventually he decided against making an entrance and came back onto our table. I asked him way he didn't want to play with them, he simply replied "They wouldn't like me" He seemed very definite about that so I didn't force the issue.

I am guilty of seeing a void between Jack and other children he comes into contact with and I'm absolutely certain he is acutely aware of it. As far as the effects of this mental disparity go I would say, at least in jack's case, he seems to have resigned himself to the fact of it. He seeks instead to engage adults in childish games. Perhaps because he knows they would be able to deal with his age-advanced thinking.

He does speak his mind when he is cetain he will be well received but at now other time.

Anna

1:12 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It is sad to see, but inevitable, given Jack's giftedness, that he should learn caution socially. In many situations, no doubt, he is not well-received, because of the disparity between his state of mind, and the others.

Yet, there is hope. From what you say, he realizes the situation and tries to work with it: that is, he seems to be selecting which situations to engage and which not to. In this way, he will lower the number of unpleasant events. However, it may mean that he is overly cautious, at times, and misses out when he need not. Perhaps, though, that is better than too regular a bruising encounter.

Good luck with raising him.

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the other children don't understand when the gifted child speaks their mind, eventually such a child might very well learn not to speak their mind at all. A conditioned silence would develop which would be very hard to penetrate."

I relate to that. It still applies, and that hurts. Im still unstifling all the things that Ive wanted to talk about, realizing that the desire to converse about them is because I am gifted. I thought before that the reason I liked to talk about "weird" things was because of some kind of problem, that it meant I was messed up. Im really having to reframe a LOT of things. I didnt know I was gifted until recently. I was raised as if I were normal and expected to act like I was normal.

I remember in kindergarten that I wasnt interested in playing with the other kids. They just didnt evoke a desire to play. What they were doing just wasnt exciting most of the time. I vaguely remember that I could see through their pretend, it wasnt real enough. The complexity of the games and scenerios wasnt enough.

I also had a lot of dignity when I was little and didnt want to be silly. I felt vicariously embarassed just watching the other kids "have fun". I couldnt understand why they wanted to embarass themselves.

I think it may be normal for kids to insult one another, and that normal kids will just forget about these comments, or they dont take them very seriously, compared to how I took them.

I didnt insult people, myself, so I guess I kind of assumed that if someone insulted me, they must really mean it, I must have done something absolutely terrible to cause such a loss of tact, and insults got to me really deeply. This made me a target for bullying, which also ruined my self confidence, and made me excruciatingly shy.

I dont remember what I wanted to talk about as a kid. But as an adult, I still have a hard time finding people who share my interest that want to talk to me at my level... Its almost like I see an invisible dimension that the rest of the world just doesnt see, they dont see the usefulness of looking at things as deeply as I do...

Hah. And its funny because they enjoy the results of my deep thinking. They enjoy the ability that it gives me to be helpful to them. But they get a peek at the process and act like something has gone totally awry in the conversation. Lol.

It must be quite a mystery to them how I come to have these abilities... lol.

Does that help you figure out what you wanted to understand?

- Kathy

8:57 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Many gifted people have the experience of not fitting in - which is basically what you describe. It can last lifelong, though...and there lies the problem.

What a gifted person, like yourself, could do with is at least one other gifted companion to share life with - it could be a gifted friend of like mind or a partner. It doesn't take many: one will do to share the inner world a bit.

It is good that you are resolving these issues now, rather than repressing them. Some people never face up to themselves and their own histories, fully. You are not going to make that mistake.

Yes, what you have said does help: it adds another tale to the idea that, to a degree, "quietness" is a learnt behaviour, on top of any introversion that may otherwise exist.

Best of luck in breaking out of it - and finding a few people to relate to. Even one would do, if they were of the right type.

Take care

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Im working on it... Its easier said than done. Like I have said before... for me, metacognition is like the sun is on inside my head. Its constant. Because of this, I think my idea of emotional intimacy is a lot more all-encompassing than what even gifted people are accustomed to. But I am keeping watch. The forum Im on is promising. New people keep turning up. Ive started messaging a lady with two psychology degrees... Maybe that will go somewhere. :)

- Kathy

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anna Stanton said...

Thank you for your comment Valentine you always show great insight into situations.
I hope to first and foremost help jack be comfortable with who he is and develop patience and diplomacy with others who may react unpleasantly. I do worry he misses out, though he has had rather many harsh encounters. Each one makes him more cautious. Everyday he reminds me life as a gifted person must be far from a bed of roses.

Anna

5:06 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I enjoy trying to help, in my own way, Anna.

As for Jack: the skills you wish to give him will prove very useful. Let him know that there ARE people who will accept him and relate well to him and, as his life progresses, he will meet more of them. Eventually he will have people that will understand him and who will welcome him. It only takes one.

As for the difficulties of being gifted, in a non-gifted world - they are very real and are never likely to go away. The gifted person must learn to accept it - and cope with it. It is a necessary survival skill.

Best wishes.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Good luck with the forum and your new friend, Kathy.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Rachel Florence Fletcher said...

Dear Mr. Cawley,

I hope that this is helpful in some way.

Before I speak on the question, some notes about me:

I was one when I stood in the corner of the sitting room and spoke with intent in "baby-talk" for fifteen minutes or so, to the astonishment of my highly intelligent family. I was five when I proposed to myself the Notion of Impossible Objectivity and began to develop my Theory of Worlds. I was six when I first learned the ancient Egyptian alphabet and watched and intelligently reviewed the film "Citizen Cane." I was seven when I devised my own language, Unilogia, which I still use today. I was eight when I began studying Tolkien's Elvish and Arabic. I was nine when I took my first class in genetics (my classmates were twice my age and nearly so). I was twelve when I shifted course from genetics to Egyptology, where I have remained since. I was fourteen when I attended orientation sessions for divinity school. I withdrew, much to my regret now. Had I stayed, I would have been the youngest person, at age sixteen, ever to have graduated from that particular school, and would have been one of the youngest persons in the world to bear the title of Rev.. I was fourteen when I partook in a biology field school usually reserved for the 18+ sort who were also biology majors in university. I was eighteen when a professor offered to publish one of my papers (and I declined his offer!). I was when twenty-one a member of two honours societies, the author of a 95 page thesis, and invited to two academic honours delegations (I have twice since been invited to the International Scholar Laureate program).

Now on to the question:

Yes; I often resort to silence (or blither) when it is apparent that no one will understand me. Perhaps especially because Language is the subject to which I have dedicated my life, I spent much time lamenting the ironies of communication. Why are people who are the best at understanding often the worst at being understood? I perpetually force myself to speak with people outside of my family to avoid developing a more permanent habit of silence. Until after the 5th year, I preferred geometrical shapes to people. Somehow the song in silence, of noiseless harmony, was so much clearer, safer, and more alive to me than the jabbering of most other people, especially other children.

I am now in the 23rd year, and still struggle at times to bear to endure the misunderstanding of others that speaking, true speaking, too often entails. For many years I did not talk of some of my favourite ideas. I would write of them instead, and sometimes write in my imagination alone, so no one but I had to try to see what I had to say. Just now I am thinking of your post about Ainan's presentation to the academy, and those people who were so cruel, and didn't understand. There is so much reason to prefer silence. But perhaps it is not our right to shut ourselves away in silent obscurity when we are moved by fiery light.


I have read much of your blog. Thank you for having it, and for sharing the experiences of your family. I wish the best for you, Ainan Celeste, and Fintan, and Tiarnan, and all the rest of your family. You are very brave.


Highest Regards,
Rachel-Florence
New York, NY

11:38 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Rachel-Florence, for sharing your child hood experiences of giftedness...I know that can be hard to do. I appreciate it.

Further thanks for your kind thoughts regarding my sons.

I think it is vital that you are not conditioned into the kind of silence that means you will never share your intellectual and creative work with the world. You must come to understand that no matter what the IMMEDIATE reaction, from people in your circle, you must NEVER let yourself be silenced. If you publish your work, there will be people who appreciate it...far away, perhaps, in both space and time...but there will be people who value what you have to contribute. So, make that contribution and don't worry about the reactions of those in your personal surroundings. Most of them will never understand - but as long as you understand that they will never understand and forgive them for that, all will be OK.

Good luck.

10:44 AM  

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