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 +

Monday, August 13, 2007

International Left-Handers Day: August 13th.

Today marks an international celebration of left-handedness.

Left-handedness is found in about 7 to 10% of the population. Throughout history, left-handers have been subject to suspicion and marginalization in many cultures, yet recent research has pointed out some interesting gifts that left-handers possess.

To be left-handed is to be different in more fundamental ways than the hand which you choose to write with: it goes deep into the very wiring of the brain. A left-hander's brain is visibly different in form and structure than a right-handers. These differences are critical to understanding the fundamental differences between left and right handers.

Normally the brain, which is divided into two halves in almost all humans (in some cases it is fused, I understand), consists of two different sized halves. For a right hander, one half is larger than the other. For a left-hander, this disparity is not seen: the two halves of the brain are of similar size. There is a good reason for this that we will get onto in a minute.

The left-hander also has a thicker corpus callosum - the bridge that connects the two halves of the brain- than a right-hander. This affords the left-hander greater communication power or "bandwidth" between the left and right halves of the brain. This is key to understanding the advantage that a left-hander holds.

When the brain is confronted with a difficult challenge: either a fast or a hard task, or one that has multiple stimuli at the same time, one half of the brain may easily become overwhelmed. Here is where the left-hander wins. You see when confronted with fast and or multiple stimuli, the left-handed brain will recruit processing power from the other half of the brain. The left hander will share the task across its two fairly equal hemispheres. In this way, the task load on one hemisphere is reduced and the task is more easily overcome. Right handers don't do this well. They rely on the power of their dominant hemisphere to handle the task and are not so good at recruiting assistance from their other brain hemisphere.

Thus, in fast-moving, challenging domains, the left-hander is superior to the right hander. This may be seen in sports, gaming or in any situation that has multiple stimuli. Particular - and critical cases - of this would include fighter pilots - or indeed civilian pilots, in which they are faced with the simultaneous input of a large amount of information in which all must be dealt with at the same time.

In simple terms, the left-hander thinks quicker than the right hander, when the task demands much of them.

It should be noted that this innate advantage for the left-hander will only be noticeable when it is called upon. In slow-moving tasks, without multiple stimuli, the advantage that left-handers possess will not be seen. However, put two people in a situation in which they are pushed to handle a lot of information at the same time - and the left hander of the two, will shine. The right hander will quickly get overloaded by the excessive mental workload.

So, perhaps it is time to acknowledge the gifts of the left-handers among us. Some cultures still find it difficult to accept them as they are, and still encourage them to use their right hand, like "everyone else". This is a mistake. The left-hander is fundamentally not like right handers. They are neurologically and distinct - and have something unique to offer us all.

A left-hander is best for any task that requires a high-throughput of multiple stimuli. So that is where they should be - in fast, hard, demanding roles, with much happening at the same time. That is where they can best make their most natural contribution: the one that plays to their strengths.

This strength of left-handers is commonly known as being good at multi-tasking. So, if it is a multi-tasking role - let the left-handers, handle it.

As careful readers of this blog will already have noted, Ainan, 7, my son, is a left-hander. Most of the rest of the family is mixed handed (ambidextrous) in some way. I will write more of this topic in future.

So, if you have a left-handed child don't adopt the concern of the right handed culture in which we live, that it is somehow unacceptable or problematic: it is not. Left-handedness, as now understood, is a kind of gift in and of itself. It is a misunderstood blessing - so be happy.

This new understanding of left-handedness was written of in an article in the journal Neuropsychology, by the Australian National University researcher Dr Nick Cherbuin. It was published in November 2006.

(If you would like to read of my left-handed son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eight months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and one month, or Tiarnan, eighteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, genetics, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:01 PM 


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