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, May 02, 2007

The Value of Child Prodigies

What is the value of child prodigies? I ask this, not because it is my question, but because it was someone else's.

A couple of days ago, someone arrived on my blog having searched "the value of child prodigies".

A child prodigy is a child who exhibits extreme precocity of intellectual development in at least one domain normally undertaken by an adult. Such a child will, by the age of about 11, show adult level capability in an adult domain. Clearly, this is highly unusual. But what does it signal?

It could mean many things - and how much "value" it has really depends, I would say, on the response of the society around the child prodigy. If the child prodigy is welcomed, rather than greeted with hostility, as may be the case, then good things may come of this situation. If the child prodigy is given opportunities to grow at their own pace, then good things may come of this situation. If the child prodigy has a pathway cleared ahead of them, then good things may come of this situation. That is three "ifs" - and for many societies, that is three "ifs" too many. Many societies do not necessarily react in the right way to a prodigy. They do not furnish the opportunities they need. They do not adjust educational regimes to meet their needs. They do not, in fact, do what is necessary to allow the prodigy to flourish. Furthermore, they do not seem to care that this is so.

What loss does this mean to the society? It could mean they lose the music of a new Mozart, the art of a new Picasso, the industrial revolution of a new Karl Benz. The loss could be truly incalculable. You see a prodigy shows a massive "spike" in ability in at least one area. Such a spike is characteristic of adult geniuses who change a domain, forever. Huge focussed ability in an area is a minimum requirement for creative change in that area. Prodigies have this. However, they may not have the opportunity to express it, as a child or as an adult. Many child prodigies have become adult geniuses - but others have not. In many of these cases, one can read a less than ideal welcome for the child. Had the response been better, who knows what might have been the productive outcome.

It has been observed by psychologists that high general ability - such as measured by IQ - is useful for maintaining the status quo of a discipline - for mastering it and utilizing it. However, it is the mysterious presence of a domain specific special talent that signals the possibility of revolutionary change. This is so because the domain specific special talent can be so much more powerful than the endowment of even a high general intelligence can allow. A high IQ will not, in itself, allow a person to outperform someone with a specific talent in an area. The specific talent can be a towering thing indeed. It is these individuals who can, if supported and afforded opportunity, change the world.

Where do we first see such towering talents? Well, many are apparent in childhood and manifest as prodigiousness. Such children have the potential for greatness - but the path from childhood prodigiousness to adult greatness is a long and arduous one. Much support is needed along the way if these young minds are not to be thwarted in their various journeys. Some will become creative adult geniuses. It is for these some that we should help all, so that there might be as many as can be, in each generation. The growth of human culture depends on such efforts.

So to answer the searcher: the value of child prodigies is as much as you want it to be. It is up to the society to make that value as high as possible. The prodigy has the greatest of potential, of any child - but if that potential is ever to be fully realized so much needs to be done to allow them to grow to their fullest. Too many societies, throughout the world and history, have failed to do what is necessary - and continue to fail to do so. The resultant loss is a loss to us all.

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and five months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, fifteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:13 PM 


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