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, January 14, 2008

When is a hand big enough?

There was a story, some time ago, distributed by a news agency, based in America, about Ainan. They put together this story without checking any of the facts with us - and so it came out, rather distorted.

The story was a simple one. They said that "boy genius" Ainan was too small for the labs at Nanyang Technological University, and that his hands were not large enough to hold beakers and the like.

Well, it is true that NTU have expressed reservations on Ainan with regards to his size, in their labs. The benches, for instance, are rather tall. Yet, simple measures could be taken to obviate this. A simple platform, for instance.

That, however, is not my concern in this post. My interest is in just how big or small my son's hands are, in relation to what they need to be, for NTU's labs (or any other lab).

Today, quite spontaneously, Ainan measured his hand span. He then set about measuring everyone else's. He asked me what the average span for his age was...and that gave me an idea. How, indeed, did Ainan's hand compare to other children's?

Ainan's handspan measured at 18.5 cm. Now, is this too small for a lab? I checked out a website that detailed the mean size of Canadian students. The data was taken from 2004/5. In this survey the mean span of a TWELVE year old CAUCASIAN boy's hand was 18.52 cm. Thus Ainan's hands, far from being small, as declared in the American article (which didn't check with us), are actually very large for his age. He has the hand size of a Canadian twelve year old boy.

Readers should note that Ainan is not Caucasian - he is Eurasian - so the norms for hand size would be correspondingly smaller. In a Singaporean context, therefore, Ainan's hands are even larger than a twelve year old's would be. He has a teenager's hands.

How do Ainan's hands compare to those of an adult? Well, 19 year old male students in Canada had an average hand span of 20.22 cm. Thus an adult span, as typified by a Canadian, is just 1.7 cm greater than Ainan's.

I found that rather revealing. We have been consistently denied access to labs by certain institutions - on the basis that Ainan would be "too small". Yet, this is an assumption. None of these places actually checked his size. None of them actually measured him against the requirements of the labs in question. They just looked at his age and assumed.

Assumption is not a substitute for thinking - but in many places, it does seem to be used as such.

Ainan's hands are more than large enough to handle the physical requirements of experimental work. They are the hands of an Asian teenager - or a small adult. They are not diminutive hands in the least.

This observation is supported by experience. Ainan has had no trouble manipulating his experimental environment on the eight occasions that he has managed to gain access to labs. He has been able to carry out all experiments without any physical problems at all. He may be smaller than an adult - but he is not so small as to be unable to accomplish all tasks required.

The next time someone questions his suitability based on size, I rather think I will point their way to the Canadian handspan chart. Hopefully, that will make the point.

No longer will I let anyone make the "handy" excuse, that Ainan's hands are too small. They are not.

(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 @ 9:32 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those kinds of excuses can certainly be frustrating. Another thought if
he's not getting invited back to the lab maybe it is about more than hand size. It is easier to say to a parent that it is something like hand size rather than talking about concerns like immaturity, attention or misbehavior.

2:51 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I appear to have been misunderstood. Ainan still goes to Nanyang Technological University every now and again - there is no question of a cessation of that. However, they were not prepared to let him onto an official University course for the reason of his size in relation to the lab equipment.

He didn't misbehave, lack attention and isn't immature in a lab context (he is quite adult as as scientific thinker).

I do understand your point that sometimes people make excuses that don't reflect their true concerns. That is undoubtedly happening here, too, for some institutions we have encountered. I think their true objections have more to do with institutional rigidity and unwillingness to do anything new, more than anything else. Inflexibility is endemic in this society (they won't try anything new).

Best wishes

11:17 PM  

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