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 +

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Conversation meant for few.

Ainan's conversation is an art in itself. To understand him, first one must understand many other things. In a way, it is both exhilarating and saddening to hear him speak the way he does.

Perhaps, I should explain. Today, for instance, with great interest in his voice, he revealed: "Daddy, carborane superacid is the only acid known to protonate fullerene without destroying its structure." This fact evidently had deep appeal to him. I am used to this kind of remark, so it takes some effort to step back from it and realize that this is not the normal conversational observation of a typical eight year old. I feel, in reflecting on his scientifically laden speech, that I am happy that I was scientifically educated so that he has someone to talk to. I cannot imagine how alone he would be, were that not so.

Ainan, eight, has interests and understandings that set him apart from other children his own age. In fact, so far apart do they set him, that it is only with scientifically expert adults that he can find conversational partners. This could be an intolerable situation were it not that I am able to understand his thoughts - and that he is at Singapore Polytechnic with other scientifically interested - though older - people.

So, I find myself with mixed feelings. It is beautiful to hear his thoughts, from the point of view of enjoying his scientific thinking (which, as a former scientist, I do). However, I am acutely aware that he cannot share his thoughts with his age-mates: this is simply an impossibility. So therein lies the sadness, too - not a sadness that he should think so, for that is beautiful, but a sadness that it makes it impossible to speak to others, as he would wish.

Yet, Ainan is happy. He is growing in his interests. He can express his fullest thoughts with me. He has others to relate to at Singapore Polytechnic and he is in an altogether better position than if his sole social milieu were a primary school with children of his own age. Then, he would truly be intellectually isolated.

As each year passes, Ainan's thoughts and interests become ever more rarified. His observations become ever more arcane. More understanding of more scientific matters is required to understand where he is coming is an endless process of growth. I suppose this is a process that all scientists go through - though almost all would not do so until they were adults. Ainan is experiencing the intellectual isolation that comes from knowing what others do not know and understanding what others do not understand. My task is to ensure that he always has a conversational outlet and that at least one person understands what he is thinking. If I can satisfy that, then he will never feel the intellectual isolation that is logically his - until such a day as he is a working scientist with equally understanding colleagues and the issue is never more an issue at all.

In the meantime, I shall serve as his primary outlet for his thoughts. How lucky I am to have the background necessary to understand them - and how lucky he is, too.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:44 PM 


Blogger Shannon said...

It must be tough for Ainan to find intellectual peers in a standard classroom. Children do not respond to adult-level vocabulary the same way as child-like vocabulary. I recently read "The Child Buyer" by John Hersey. Written in the form of senate reports, the author captures the struggles and loneliness that many non-conforming students encounter. Written in the 1960's, Hersey's points are still surprisingly relevant. The brightest children are often tied up in bureaucracy, continuous psychological testing, and administrative power struggles. Ainan has the parents he needs to help him through a challenged system. He is also fortunate to find intellectual peers in family members and classmates at Polytechnic. As for observation re carborane superacid: Wow, Ainan is truly a remarkable child!

3:35 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your comment, Shannon.

There are no intellectual peers in the standard classroom. The problem for many gifted children is in NOT going beyond the standard classroom. Such children need other resources/people...finding them is key, I feel.

One way Ainan accommodates to his social situation is by not revealing his thoughts. So, he would not deploy the vocabulary he does with me, to an eight year old. He has learnt discretion and flexibility. I should post about it. What he does, basically, is judge what is suitable to the situation. It does mean, however, that he cannot show himself, as he is, in most situations. That is a bit sad, really.

You are always reading interesting things, Shannon...

Best wishes

4:34 PM  

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