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 +

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fintan's favourite colours.

We were walking to a local shop, a few days ago, near our house, when I thought to ask, my seven year old son:

“What is your favourite colour, Fintan?”

He looked down at the grey slabs of tiles at his feet and declared: “Grey”.

That wasn’t the answer I had expected. It seemed so unenticing a colour, for a child to choose.

“Grey? I thought it was orange.”

He kept his eyes down at the tiles, as if studying their formation. His thoughts, however, were cast inward and backward.

“Before orange, it was purple.”, he remarked.


“Yes. After orange, it was blue, then black, then grey.”

He had laid his life out in a series of colours. Suddenly, in a way, he seemed very old, for he had given depth to the moment. Fintan seemed, then, to be a multilayered boy, a pile of colours stretching off into time.

“Why do you keep changing your favourite colour, Fintan?”

Tiarnan doesn’t.” he remarked, not by way of explanation at all, “Tiarnan’s is always blue.”

“Why does yours change, Fintan?”

He was silent, as if reflecting on himself. He didn’t answer, but just walked, head down, studying the stones.

I decided to ask the question in a different way.

“Why did you like purple, Fintan?”

I knew that was a long time ago, but I had to ask. Fintan may have only been about two at the time.

“Because of that tv show…with the purple animal…”, he trailed off, seeking remembrance.

“Barney?”, I suggested.

He gave a sharp nod of recognition.

“Barney the dinosaur?”, I continued, “You liked purple because of Barney?”

He seemed to be all agreement, without giving any overt sign.

“Why did you like orange?”

“Because of a fruit.”, he said, simply.

“Which fruit?”

“Orange.”, his eyes glanced up at me and it was quite clear what thought was in them: how could you miss something so obvious?

“What about blue?”

“The sea is blue.”, he said, recalling beaches, it seemed, and waves splashing ashore.

“How about black?”

“Black is a wall.” His hands waved in front of him, as if he faced that very wall, in his imagination, even now.

“Which wall?”. That was interesting. I couldn’t think of any wall that Fintan might have known, that was black.

“Any wall is black, Daddy, you just have to paint it.” He spoke as if he was teaching me to see the obvious.

I fell in love with that remark the moment he said it. It seemed to so express how he saw the world. For him the world was not what is, but what could be. Any wall was black – you just had to paint it. That single remark made the walk to the shops worth it, despite the fact that it meant a long walk back uphill afterwards.

“How about grey? Why do you like that?”

“Grey is the shading of a pencil. I like shading.”

Again, he seemed to be drawing in his mind’s eye, as he spoke.

We walked on, then, to the shops, as I reflected on Fintan’s words. I understood, then, that, for him, a favourite colour was not an arbitrary choice, at all, as it seemed with so many children. For Fintan, it was not just a favourite colour that he chose – but a favourite thing, activity or experience, that happened to be coloured. His favourite colours were an autobiography of his development – they showed what was his favourite experience at each and every stage of his young life. His choices spoke of who he was, at any given stage of his life. He had begun as a watcher of tv shows, and had evolved into a young artist, changing his colour at each step of the way.

I realized that, for Fintan, the world was a rich network of association. A colour was not just a colour, it was, for him, some special thing.

As ever with Fintan, his disarming personal quality – which presented him as rather like a living teddy bear – hid complexities, that were just waiting below the surface. He was both endearing and unexpected at the same time. I know, though, that most would miss what was really going on with him – because they would never think to ask the right questions. So, they would go away knowing only of his teddy bearishness – and not of the multilayered tales within.

I am glad I had that chat with Fintan. The question may have been ordinary, but the answers were not. They led me to understand that Fintan was filled with attached meanings – by which I mean, he attaches meanings to many things, in his life, that would, for others, have no meaning at all.

Of course, this leaves me to wonder: what else don’t I know about Fintan, simply because I have never thought of the right question to ask, to elicit just those inner thoughts he never voices? He had never spoken of why he likes particular colours before – but that was because I had never thought to ask, before. What else, do I not know? I hope to have the wisdom to ask the questions that I should. Who knows what other surprises lay within his curly head?

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 6 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to:

I also write of gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, megasavant, HELP University College, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, Malaysia, IQ, intelligence and creativity.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:34 PM 


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