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, November 19, 2007

The memory of a toddler

It is said, by some, that young children don't form long term memories. The impression is that they don't retain much of their daily life, for long. I have come to doubt that.

On the 12th November, twenty-one month old Tiarnan saw a Christmas tree in a shopping centre.

He ran over to it excitedly and reached up to pick up at the baubles. That wasn't what got my attention. What did, was his words as he did so: "Mismas! Mismas!" he said. He had remembered Christmas, from a year before when he had been ten to eleven months old.

Now, he had not heard the word Christmas, either, since last year - so his rendition of it: "Mismas" is a memory of word long unheard and long unused. This is another indicator that young children do, in fact, form long-term memories, and are able to recall them much later.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and eleven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and four months, and Tiarnan, twenty-one months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:58 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Relatively few gifted children learn to be this discrete"
This may be strange as probably all the comment you have received were by adults.
I'm a 13 yr old and only till now have I realised that perhaps the way i think, my overwhelming curiousity and the urge to know everything was actually different to the way, basically everyone my school was like.
But it seems that I did not develop or more so, they didn't appear as I was a toddler as it did for your child.
I have been researching a lot about it and I believe i'm a polymath, i've read many books on Leonardo Da Vinci and I find ourselves so familiar in both the way we think and our passions.
Because I am thirteen does that mean i exceed the age to be a child prodigy??
I teach myself many languages like Spanish, Italian and Brazilian portuguese. I am also attempting latin.
I have the ability to read many books at one time, I have a large collection of non-fiction books too.
My interests are: Zoology, Philosophy, Art, Music, History, Geography, Physics, Biology, Astronomy and Pyschology.
I always get this feeling where i cannot connect with children my age or even older. I'd much rather talk to an adult, bearing in mind they're not part of the ignorant majority. I like engaging in debates especially about religion. I feel i'm not learning enough at school so I teach myself other subjects at home. I've also taught myself how to write in calligraphy.
Many times I question me and the world, and it can seem so surreal.
Sometimes I do what your son does, I simply do not put my hand up although I may know the answer.
I also have a deep understanding of Buddhism, and well, I could go in quite in-depth about it but I won't now.
I constantly set my self high standard and if I don't achieve them I get frustrated with myself.
I enjoy playing chess, as I like to construct strategic ways of winning in my head.
I also love to write stories and I play scenes a lot in my head that seem so vivid at times.
I like riddles too, and usually I'm at my best before I go to sleep and that's when I seem to be able to solve riddles strangely.
Most days I wake up and I remember my dreams.
I'm currently reading "The Number Sense" by Stanislas Dehaene.
I hope to receive a reply soon, there's much more to me.
I am yet to take an IQ test.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your post.

Firstly, I would like to say that you sound like a gifted girl, with a great range of potential. There are many things you could set out to do.

Perhaps you need to find a creative outlet for all the ideas and desire to learn that rages within you. You might find that more fulfilling than simply learning new things (it is certainly worth a look at). Writing benefits from a broad range of knowledge - which you have.

The one problem a polymathic personality faces is the allocation of time to their different interests and abilities. You must decide for yourself what your priorities are, and which of your many skills you are going to develop to the highest level. Remember that only high level skills can make a professional impact later in life - though it is good to have breadth in support of them.

As for relating to others - it is difficult, yes. It would be good if you found at least one gifted other, as a close friend, to share your inner world, with. Perhaps you could try joining societies for the gifted that might be in your part of the world.

An IQ test only tells a limited amount about a person. It speaks of convergent thinking (the solving of problems with one answer); it doesn't speak of the type of thinking Leonardo was good at, in particular: divergent thinking - problems of many solutions.

By all means take an IQ test if you want - but understand that it will miss those aspects of yourself that are creative and may give you an inaccurate picture of your true nature.

I wish you well in whatever you do. Firstly, enjoy it - and secondly, find something to do that expresses who you really are.

Kind regards

10:25 AM  
Anonymous said...

I agree that young children can retain long term memories. Not only does my 2 year old son almost have the numbers 1 through ten down (By seeing numbers or fingers, or even just asking him what numbers next), but I have seen many exapmles of more direct evidence. Although I was already very used to my son going straight for buttons he clearly remembered the location of on his when entering a place he had been to only once months before (or longer), even I was suprised the other weekend when I took himm to a camp for families and I watched at the bonfire him being the first one with a stick for roasting marshmellows going straight to the fire and putting it in. He turned his head away because the fire was quite hot and held it there. I had shown him how to roast marshmellows in a fire pit, once or twice the summer before. He hadn't even seen a fire pit again till the other weekend. It was something that didn't last as long, or have as much attention drawn to it as Christmas. I have had people tell me, let alone me tell them, since he was 3 months old that if you show him once he's got it. Although he is only 2 and still gets impatient at times, he is very often willing to wait when I ask him, remembering and knowing I will get to him and it will be worth the wait. My son also preffers to be supervised and gets upset if he figures he is not being under supervision enough of the time. He enjoys supervision because of all the things he can do under supervision, like making paper link chains at 1 1/2, after showing him what to do I only controlled the amount of glue used and he made his own chain.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your corroborative comment Charitey. Indeed, I think they are some young children who confound the limits of traditional expectation.

Have fun raising your gifted child!

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to hear of toddlers (aged less than 5), who seem to notice, to feel, to remember experiences that are alien to them, that means, things that they could not have seen or heard in their short life. For instance a child being particularly afraid of some animal for which the mother is positively certain that s/he had never encountered or felt afraid by. Or feeling an unexplained fondness for some particular habit, or situation, or thing which seems unusual, strange, unexplainable by the life and surroundings of the child; for instance being unusually fond of some exotic food or music.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hmmm...I will give it a think and see if there were any such indicators in my own children.

Thanks for the implicit question.

7:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to start with the fact that I am the director of a preschool and I work with children 15 months to 6.11 years old. When I had my daughter who is now 2 years old I felt and feel like i am raising her and "teaching her" the way every parent does. I Let her explore telling her and showing her the right words. She is very smart and has been talking since 10months old. She started talking in complete sentances at 15 months and recalls things that baffle me. Last night i decided i would start her with letter flashcards. I pulled just the Letters in her name Samantha. S is for Samantha I tell her showing her the S on the card She responds no mommy S is for Socks (the picture on the card). I laugh and say Yes and S is for Samantha too. We continue A is for apple M is for monkey and so on. Well I left it at that. Continued to cook dinner and get ready for tubby then I turned to her and she was on the floor with her flashcards testing herself. S is for Samantaha and Socks A is for apple M is for monkey over and over she looked at the correct card and repeated it. I have seen her do this repeat with things she doesn't know before but to watch her and see that she was quizing herself to memerize it was kind of scary to me in a way. I know kids learn through repeative exposer and i practice that in my daycare which she does not attend. She stays at home with her grandmother well I am at work. I don't want her having the long 10 hour school days. but to continue, I have never in the 10 years i been working with kids seen a child at 2years old quiz themselves. Should i be baffled by this? What should I be researching to help my daughter continue on this amazing path of learning? Or is this just a case of me feeling like my daughter is gifted were in fact all childen do it and i have just never picked up on it before? Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks So Much Shelly ... Boston MA

7:32 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Shelly,

Sorry it has taken me so long to post your comment...I have been very busy these past few days.

Firstly, congratulations on your wonderful child!

Secondly...relax. The best approach I have found to nurturing a child, is a gentle one: provide them materials in their interests and let them explore as they wish. DON'T force the issue and don't regiment it. The child will be happiest at their own pace and will choose that pace themselves. It sounds like your daughter is developing the mental disciplines necessary to be an autodidact. This is good. She will be able to teach herself what she wants, particularly when she knows how to read. Let her do so. Just follow her interests and don't try to mould her into something she doesn't want to be.

Good luck.

8:25 PM  

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