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 +

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The notationally gifted

What is a notationally gifted child? Well, it is a child gifted in the use of common notation: that is words and numbers. It is, in fact, what most people commonly think of as gifted.

Yet, there is a problem with this idea of the gifted person as notationally gifted. You see, many gifted children and gifted adults are NOT notationally gifted, and yet are gifted in some definite, real, tangible sense. They may have a gift for music, or art, or may be particularly good with spatial thinking. They may be gifted socially - or may have the kind of inner wisdom that allows them to understand themselves very well (intrapersonal intelligence). These latter types might be good poets or writers, or other kinds of artists who draw on a knowledge of the self. They might even be gifted in a sense that most people don't even consider to be gifted: kinaesthetically gifted - that is, gifted in movement. Such people may be fine dancers or great athletes. They, too, possess a gift. Yet, none of these categories of people might show up on a conventional IQ test, as "gifted" - for they are not necessarily notationally gifted, as well.

So, the common idea of the gifted, which coincides with the concept of the "notationally gifted" is very limiting. It constrains our understanding of what a gifted person may be, and excludes, in fact, most gifted people. There are many more kinds of gifted people out there, than are described by the ability to use words and numbers well. Yet, the problem with most gifted programs and the thinking behind them, is that giftedness will manifest in a gift for words and numbers. This is not necessarily so. Such people are just a subset of the gifted people in the world.

I am not denying the importance of notational giftedness - for such gift is the foundation of effectiveness in the academic world and all its allied professions - but there is more to giftedness than that. We deprive the world of the gifts of the many and varied gifted, if we refuse to see the full range of gifted people among us. Some who are musically or artistically or kinaesthetically gifted, may also be notationally gifted, too. However, many of them will not be. Their gift will stand apart from the more common academic gifts. Let us not exclude them from the opportunities they need to grow just because they don't fit our common understanding of what a "gifted" person is. Picasso wasn't much of an everyday student - but in his art, he shone. I doubt whether he would have been identified as "gifted" by a program that used IQ tests alone to determine membership - but that he had a gift, is self-evident, to anyone who has seen his art. The same may be said by many thousands of unknown gifted people, out there in the world. Many of them will remain unidentified and unsupported, because the educational screening systems are using too narrow a criteria to define giftedness. Giftedness is not just about pure intellect (in a notational sense) - there are other kinds of thinker and other kinds of thinking. We lessen the world, if we ever forget that.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two 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 @ 11:32 PM 


Anonymous Chanel said...

I love reading your blogs because I am becoming more aware of myself and they're very interesting.

Often I have been confused about what exactly I am if that makes sense. My complex way of thinking, reflecting on my life and beliefs, my approach to obstacles in life and my constant observing leading to me having an in-depth knowledge of the human nature and how their brain operates. I can judge my response to a person based on my observation of them and the result is successful. When we have to do a project at school in a group I always go ahead and do my own thing, as I do not like to work with other people.
I believe now (after reading your blog) that I'm intrapersonal intelligent. I do not mean to be boastful, but I'm also talented in Art, English, Science, Humanities and Languages.
I want to receive some kind of recognition but first, do not know how to go about it and it does not seem there are many gifted programs here suitable for me.
I've also found out I am "Nature smart" as I have an infinite love for animals and the environment, and take this interest far, researching mammals & reading through my large collection of animal books. I'm "Word Smart" too.

I have a strange habit of memorising numbers and letters, such as cars reg. plate. I could be told a total amount of something and I'll remember it easily.

I am unsure of where I'd categorise myself because I have a variety of talents.

Perhaps until I reach adulthood I shall remain unnoticed. But as I become older I want to achieve great things! Until then, I'll keep filling in my diary.

By the way, it's me - the 13 yr old who left you a comment some months ago.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your kind words regarding my blog. I am glad to know that it is helping you come to understand yourself. That is the first step to becoming effective in the world.

As for the matter of recognition - that comes when you are ready for it. If you achieve something, in any domain, at any age, which is truly worthy, then recognition will come. First focus on building your strengths so that you will be able to create such a worthy thing, or do something inherently interesting, unusual or outstanding. If you do that, it is very likely that your merit will be recognized. If you continue to do worthy things, over a long time, then you may become famous for those activities.

However, there are many people who do worthy things that not many people know about. It depends on the kind of life that you choose. Someone who becomes a good administrator in the Civil Service, for instance, may, in fact, be very gifted at their job. However, no-one is ever likely to know who they are, or what they have done.

Yet, if the same person were to achieve some merit in writing or music, or business or some other more public activity, it is indeed likely that many people will come to know them.

I would, however, focus on doing something you love. If you love what you do and do it well, then recognition in some sense is sure to come. At the very least, one can be known throughout one's chosen profession for one's gifts. It is true that some people in each profession, no matter what it is, become known. These days, there are even celebrities in areas that have never known celebrities before - like hairdressers and chefs. In times such as ours, one can become noted for anything if you are good enough at it to be worth noting.

Good luck with your journey of self-discovery - and with whatever you choose to apply yourself to.

You come across as an intelligent girl, in print. I would agree with your assessment of yourself as having an intrapersonal inclination - it shows in a certain introspection in your writing.

Best wishes. By the way, where are you from? (If I knew the country, it might give me a better understanding of the perspective from which you write.)

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Chanel said...

I currently live in England, south-east.
Although my nationality is Brazilian, Italian and Caribbean.

Thankyou for replying and sharing your wise advice, I will put them to practice.

"What one requires in youth enables one to fight against the miseries of old age, take steps while you are young to ensure you do not lack resources in old age."
-Leonardo Da Vinci

I memorized it from a book I've read about him, it's one of my favourite quotes.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Chanel,

That is funny because I had rather guessed you were Italian - something about your word choices and phraseology.

I hope you enjoy England while you are there. It is a rich and diverse culture with much to offer someone of your broad interests.

There are many careers which would benefit from a background as varied as yours. (It is, therefore, a blessing to have some a mixed heritage).

Good luck with following what you love and finding a life that makes you happy and fulfilled.

Best wishes

3:03 AM  

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