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 +

Friday, June 15, 2007

When advice, is not advice.

Long ago, my brother Josh was starting out on his career in the financial world.

(I have referred to him elsewhere in one story that told of his savant-like gift for mental calculation. As I noted then, he has the gift, but he does not have a savant's impairment - but is, in fact, profoundly gifted.)

It was at this time that he was given what I have recently come to regard as a mischievous piece of advice. This supposedly helpful adviser was aware of Josh's ability to do complex calculations instantly and instinctively, in his mind, without reference to a calculator or computer. In the financial world, at that time, there were many roles which involved the manipulation of numbers, the analysis of numerical data and the ability to understand all things mathematical. There would seem, therefore, to be one obvious piece of advice that Josh could have been given...but what he was actually advised to do was something altogether different.

This adviser told Josh, as I heard the story, many years ago, to steer clear of any role that involved direct interaction with numbers. He argued that it would become unbearable, for one such as Josh, with his innate understanding of number, to be surrounded by numbers, all day. Josh, as a young man, just out of University, took this advice at face value - and duly steered clear of any role having such direct and considerable daily involvement with numbers.

Think about that for a moment. Josh had a unique gift for instant calculation and interpretation of numbers. He could do what no other could, numerically. The possible implications for effective outcomes for one such as that, placed in a situation which allowed the interpretation of numbers to have a real world effect, are boundless. Truly, he could have done something very interesting indeed. Yet, he was advised not to become involved with numbers. I wonder at the mischief behind such advice. Josh was being advised to avoid playing to his greatest strength, being advised to hide his talents, to operate in an area in which they would have no direct use. Such advice could only have been meant unkindly, I think - unless the adviser truly misunderstood the situation - but I think that unlikely.

Josh never did apply his numerical gift, professionally, as far as I am aware. He took the advice and let his calculatory gift lie dormant and rarely called upon. That is, I feel, a pity.

I tell this tale for an obvious reason. You or your children may have unusual gifts. At various times others, in a position of authority, may advise you or your children as to careers and courses. I would evaluate their advice with the story above in mind - and ask these questions:

Does the advice take note of the innate strengths of the child? Does the advice play to the strengths of the child - or does it ignore them? Is the adviser someone likely to be in competition at the organization with your child? If so, then look more closely still at the advice that is being given.

The gifted are not welcomed everywhere. Sometimes people feel threatened by their gifts - and do what they can to hide them, obstruct them or otherwise interfere with their expression.

Had Josh become directly involved with numbers, in an area in which the rapid understanding of their meaning and possibilities had real world implications, he would have become, in all probability, the best in his field, in the world - for no other could compete with him, in the matter of mental calculation.

In taking the advice he was given, he turned away from his most unusual strength, and played to others, instead - but I can't help but wonder what would have happened had he exercised a gift that no-one else could challenge him in.

Ensure that your child is never left to wonder such a thing, too: play to their strengths, whatever they may be.

(I should point out that Josh has led a fulfilling and interesting career, since. Yet, the point remains that there are applications for his unused gift that would have been truly remarkable.)

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, Josh's nephew, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and six months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three, and Tiarnan, sixteen 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 @ 6:02 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the take-home lesson here is that nobody should EVER base their career choice on the advice of one person. In fact, no decision whatsoever should be based on the advice of one person. This is why people with an illness are told to "get a second opinion" from a different doctor. If people learn anything from this anecdote, it should be the importance of getting input from multiple sources before making life-altering decisions.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, I quite agree. Too often advice is heeded that should, instead, be considered against a backdrop of a whole lot of other information, too.

Best wishes

9:15 PM  

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