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, January 11, 2008

Adult IQ Tests and Children.

Recently, a searcher arrived on my site with the terms: "If a child takes an adult IQ test." I didn't have the time to respond, then, but I shall now.

Many - in fact, most - of the tests available online are for adults. They are for adults in a very special way. If they are proper tests, they will have been normed for adults. This means that a body of adults will have been tested using the IQ test, and a distribution of performances plotted. This will have verified the test against a standard population. It is what gives the test validity and allows us to interpret what its results mean. For instance, that a person of a particular IQ result was better than 1 in 100, or 1 in 1000 of the test population. We are, in effect, comparing anyone new who takes the test, with those who originally took the test. This is what all official IQ tests have had done. (Well, deviation IQ tests anyway.)

Now, there is a big problem if a child takes such a test. The problem comes when the adult (usually a parent), doesn't understand how tests are constructed and verified. If they don't understand that a test has been normed against an adult population, they may be very, very upset with the result their "bright" child gets. By taking the test, the parent is, unwittingly, comparing the child against an ADULT POPULATION. The result is not compared against a population of the child's agemates. As a result the outcome is not what it seems. If, for instance a six year old takes an adult IQ test and scores at an IQ of 70, the parent might be rather shocked. But it doesn't mean that at all. It means that the child of six was performing as an adult with an IQ of 70 would perform. For a six year old, that would, in fact, be a pretty good result - not a bad result, as the parent might have thought.

What if another six year old scored above a 100 on an adult IQ test? That would be phenomenal. For it would indicate that the six year old was performing on a par with adults...or above average adults. It would be a very good result indeed. However, the parent might think "Oh...100, (or 108 or whatever) is pretty average, little Johnny can't be that bright after all..." and be disappointed. So, again, the parent would get an unfortunate impression of their gifted child.

Thus, it is misleading to use an adult IQ test for a child. The IQ result only tells us how your child compares to an adult population. It does not tell us the child's true IQ, in the way the term is meant these days: comparison for rarity with children of their own age.

The child who scores 100 in an adult IQ test, at the age of 6, might actually score in the region of 200 to 300 on a child's test, normed for 6 year olds. That is just a ballpark estimate of the situation. So, one can see how misleading adult IQ tests can be for the assessment of the intellectual performance of children.

If you want to know your child's real IQ, there is only solution: an IQ test that has been normed on a relevant population - children of their own age. Any other test, is going to give you an incorrect assessment.

So, for all those parents who have given an adult IQ test to their children...I would suggest finding a proper test, and trying again - if you really want to know the truth.

(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 @ 5:40 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I was a bit confused though. I've never heard of parents giving their children adult IQ tests. It seems pretty obvious that a person couldn't really figure an actual IQ from a test online. It does sound like there is a role for actual IQ testing with appropriate instruments. Have any of your children been IQ tested?

4:23 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I would suggest that many people are not as sophisticated as you are, in the matter of IQ testing and all matters gifted. Many people really don't understand what IQ tests are or how they are constructed, verified or supported. They just see a number which they are told means average if 100, dull if less than 100, and gifted if over 130. (With genius often arbitrarily placed at 150 plus). They don't understand the concept of norming and comparison to a test population. Because of this, they really don't know how to interpret the test.

I have evidence from the type of comment posts and mail to me, that some people do, indeed, give online tests to their children. Either that, or their children spontaneously take them, on finding them. It is also clear to me that they don't understand that different tests are appropriate for different populations.

I don't know about where you are from but in some countries IQ testing in the official sense is prohibitively expensive. In Singapore it is up to 1,500 dollars for one test. That is not reasonable or affordable (we didn't think so, anyway). Because of this expense, in most countries, I think many parents are likely to use online tests as a cheap substitute and not understand how to interpret them.

In theory, an online test would be able to give a fair estimate of an IQ but ONLY IF it has been correctly normed. Whether it has or not, is a bit of a gamble.

For a more accurate and verified result, one would have to go to a suitable psychologist, pay the requisite fortune and get your child, or self, tested.

There is another problem with IQ test norming that I have referred to in other posts: the depression of gifted scores by assuming that the Flynn Effect applies equally to the gifted. It doesn't. So modern tests ALL suffer from the tendency to depress gifted scores tremendously. This can also mislead parents and teachers as to the true nature of a child's intellect. It is really unhelpful.

Thank you for your comment.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think parents shouldn't even bother with IQ-testing kids. There are many other types of intelligences. What about musical intelligence? Bodily-kinesthetic? EQ? Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences? Et cetera... A person can have multiple intelligences according to Howard Gardner. So why focus on just IQ? I'm not one who is big on quantitative testing. Then again, I don't have a child yet.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I rather agree with you. If you read deeper in my site, you would see that I have often posted on the problems and limitations of IQ testing. I have also written of the myriad ways children can be gifted (and adults too).

I would suggest that Gardner's view of humanity, is closer to the way people actually are. There IS a multiplicity of ways people can be gifted. Some people show one of these ways...others show many of them.

Should you have kids, you too will see these gifts at work in yours, in different ways. It is very interesting. It also helps to realize that there are many ways they can be competent - not just the narrow one of IQ. (Picasso would probably not have had a high IQ...I have seen moderate estimates for him. Rembrandt definitely didn't have much of an IQ. They both had great Visuo-Spatial intelligence though, didn't they? (Limited though they might have been verbally and numerically...)

Best wishes

8:39 PM  
Blogger Just Jen said...

I don't believe in them but I enjoy taking them. I know that seems contradictory. On CBC in a couple of weeks they are having the IQ test challenge and I participated in it previously. It's fun! My 13 yr old scored higher than me at a 99 IQ, where as I was a 96 IQ, Hubby of course nailed the test at 156 IQ. The bum. Anyway, we had fun answering questions and joining in with each other. One of the major problems I have with an IQ test is the test is made in comparison to the population. So a test from 50 years ago (even if the question is on a quart of barley instead of a liter of milk) would have a higher IQ rating. If you can beat it. The education received was quite different. The child who may take an IQ test in a country where they don't teach reading until age 8, may score higher do to their comprehension being more developed. It's good that you pointed out the issue of testing online. Many tests are farces and there to make you feel good about yourself. The test truly is for fun and isn't a proper measure of a child's IQ, whether it's an adult test or not. It would be better to take a test that rounds off all different aspects of a child's giftedness, not just academic. Have you heard of the book Misdiagnosis of the Gifted Child by James T Webb? It is a fantastic insight into the gifted mind and how it can be missed, especially here in Canada, where diagnosis of ADHD and autism abound. You might that interesting. It has nothing to do with the IQ testing, just thought I'd mention it and see if you have read it, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. A different perspective than what I am getting in this country is sure to prove interesting!

12:03 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Jen for the book suggestion. I have heard the title...but never read it, or known who the author was. I must secure a copy. When I have read it, I will post about it, if it has anything to say to my readership.

You are right that it is vital to get a wider understanding of a child (or an adult) than an IQ test gives. IQ measures one subset of mental functions. It is not the whole of mental function. All "talents" - music, art, sport etc...are missed by it. Much else is missed, too. The problem is that it is easy...and when something is easy people use it as a substitute for something hard - like actually finding out what the child can do.

Best wishes on raising your child.

Thanks for your post.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Punn Siwabutr said...

Thank you Jen, for your book recommendation.

While waiting for my copy, I found this excerpt of the book at

10:35 PM  
Blogger Andy's mom said...

My son was tested at age 10 and had an IQ of 146. Now at age 16yr, 8mo he was tested and has an IQ of 115. The tester said it's because he took children's IQ test initially, and an adult IQ test this time. Is a dramatic drop like this common? Should he be retested with a children's test?

2:16 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right, Andy's Mom, to wonder about your son's test results. It is commonly thought that IQ is a stable feature of a person after the age of about 5 to 7. So, your son's drop in IQ is not normal, really, in my view...especially not a two standard deviation change.

Is it possible he has been doing things since then which are harmful to intelligence? Does he drink? Has he done drugs?

Another factor, though, is that children's IQs are sometimes higher than adult IQs - this is seen with extremely high IQs as children being still high but somewhat moderated as adults. However, I am not sure that the difference you are seeing would be usual.

Other factors can affect testing: had your son slept well the night before the test? Was he motivated? Has he lost interest in academics? Is he bored? All these factors can lower the result. Another possibility is deliberate failure. Is he trying to avoid success?

I don't know enough about your son to know which of these possibilities applies - that is up to you to decide.

It could very well be that there is a real decline in intelligence compared to his peers. This could be because he "peaked" earlier in his development and did not develop beyond that point. So maybe his decline is not real but only relative. To test this you would have to retest on the original children's test and see what he got. If he doesn't get the same result or higher then there is a real decline in intelligence. If he tests higher than before, then the decline is only relative.

Good luck.

8:57 AM  

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