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 03, 2010

Speaking in code

About a week ago, Ainan came into the dining room where I sat, after dinner, with a pack of cards in his hands. He waved them before him, before he spoke, suggesting perhaps that he referred to them.

His eyes were excited. He clearly wanted to share something. Fintan, seven and Tiarnan, four, had trailed into the room behind him and watched him, with casual interest. It seemed that they waited for him to finish so that they could play a game of cards with him.

Words came out of his mouth and formed sentences that had an elusive quality. Their surface meaning was slightly opaque and just beyond reach. It was as if I wasn't listening closely enough to what he said, to fully understand it. He smiled at me, and seemed to urge me to understanding. He repeated himself then, and I listened even more closely. The words appeared audible in my mind, but I couldn't fully identify what he meant to say. I felt somewhat at a loss. Yet, before me, there was his intense face and his obvious need to communicate something.

He tried again.

I failed again.

Finally, Ainan gave up. He stood still for a moment, a little defeated, perhaps a little disappointed that I had not understood him: "It is an acronym", he whispered to me. "Acronym."

He waited to see if I would understand him. He no longer had the confidence that I would. There was something a little lost in him, then, that I had not, the first time.

I viewed his words, then, in my mind and picked out the first letters. All became clear. He was advising me on tactics on how to play the game - using acronyms to convey his message, so that his little brothers would not know what he had advised.

I looked on him, then, with a sadness I doubt he could read. My prodigious son had thought I would see his hidden message in the words he spoke. He had thought that I would note the acronymic possibilities of his speech and understand him. There is something beyond sad in that. The sadness is this: I am the smartest person Ainan knows...yet, sometimes, even I do not immediately understand what he intends to communicate. This was one example. He had appraised my likelihood of understanding him and thought it reasonable to employ an acronymic code in casual conversation to convey a point, over the heads of his brothers. Yet, I doubt that a single person on Earth would have understood him, without prompting. People don't simply search human speech for acronymic possibilities, without having been given reason to do so.

I know what it is to be Ainan, to have thoughts that are beyond the understanding of all around one...for that was much my own experience of childhood, at times, but it brings a new sadness to me, to see it in Ainan. It is not a sadness, you understand, that he should be like this, but a sadness that there are no others that he can readily communicate the fullest complexities of his thought to, without being met with incomprehension. I am the only person, really, that he can talk to, without moderating his intellectual output, to the limits of his audience - yet, at times, even for me, his meaning can be elusive - not often, you understand, but certainly, it happens.

Then again, there is another aspect to this, that must not be overlooked. Ainan is just ten years old. His mind is still growing and is by no means at its apex. He is but halfway to the top of where he shall one day be - perhaps not even that. The thoughts he can conceive will grow more complex by the year, more elusive, more challenging. Thus it is, that the number of people who can grasp his intentions, his thoughts and understandings, will diminish by the year. There may come a time when, perhaps, there will be no-one who can fully understand him, without careful explanation and great effort. What will his perspective on life be, should that time come to be? What will he think of people? How will he feel that they don't really understand him?

Already I have caught a glimpse of what it must be for him. I saw the glint of disappointment in his eyes, that I had not understood his acronymic code. I saw his stepping back from his excitement, into a careful, evaluative watchfulness, as if to see what would be necessary to make me understand. I saw his surprise at his need to reassess his understanding of my understanding. He hadn't expected that I would not immediately grasp his meaning.

In a way, I failed him in that moment. My role, you see, has always been to understand him, to be there for him as the one he can speak freely to, and be ever understood and appreciated. In that moment, however, I tripped and fell. I could not meet that demand without a hint, without the clue he gave me. I could see that he had not expected that. In a way, however, that is good, for it shows what a good job I have been doing of understanding him. His surprise shows that I had, until then, been largely successful in my role as the one who listens with understanding. It also shows, of course, that he thinks highly of my ability to understand.

I look again, on my memory of how he was, as he was explaining to me, his code. He seems now, to be somewhat vulnerable, a little fragile, as he stood there, making his thought clear. I cannot put a meaning to this, though: it is too opaque to me. Perhaps, he felt my failure as a kind of loss: before there was certainty of, there was not. It is difficult to know - but I can see this: I think it is important to him, that I understand him. It is also important to me that I understand him, but this I haven't said.

I am led to ask, one question that I have been postponing: what if he outgrows me, one day? What if the day comes when I find his meaning consistently too elusive? What if he passes beyond my understanding into a realm of his own? Should that day come, it will be a new experience for us both - for I am used to understanding what people say, without difficulty...and Ainan is used to the idea that I, at least, understand him. Should that day come, Ainan will probably be alone, in the intellectual sense, for if I no longer understand him, readily, I very much doubt another would, in his acquaintance. There are too few such people. Though alone in his world, perhaps he will write his understandings and communicate with people throughout time, even if such conversations are innately one-sided. Through the written word, even the deepest thoughts, will finally be understood, one day, by someone - for such thoughts may be pondered at will, for as long as it takes to understand them. The written word will be Ainan's ultimate way to speak his mind. Besides, acronyms are so much easier to spot written down!

Happy thinking, Ainan.

(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 @ 11:07 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh come on. Nobody has 'failed' anybody. First off, it is a good thing if each successive generation is smarter than the previous one. You know, Flynn effect and all that. After all, we're inheriting a more complicated society.

Secondly, if you know anything about functions... then being N dominant, S is your weakest function and vice versa. But that's a good thing as well. I think people learn the most from those that are different from them. Anyways, you can fabricate theories for Ainan and he can fill in the details, tell you if it's feasible. I believe that as long as parents give steady, stable guidance they can be considered good parents, as I think you are doing. Also, have you looked into engineering? It's full of very practical, detail-oriented types.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Safireau,

By "N" do you mean the "N" in INTJ and by "S" do you mean the "S" in ISTJ, etc? I should delve more into that, if so.

Are you proposing engineering as a possibility for Ainan? He certainly has practical ability and does invent/propose things...I shall talk to him about it and do some looking into it, myself.


7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, that's what I meant. Sorry, I forgot to elaborate. Here's another link if you're interested:

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I like the Typelogic website a lot, I personally believe they have mistyped a few individuals so keep that in mind.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks re. mistyping...any prominent examples?

3:25 PM  
Blogger Straight Grandmother said...

I am reading your blog from the bottom up, meaning I am reading the most current entries and working backwards so I am jsut picking up hints of what has happened in the past which has brought you to where you are today.
I would not wory so much about Aiden never finding an intellectual equal. There is much much satisfaction to be had in just plain figuring out thing for yourself, even in the people in you sphere do not get it. This situation is not unique to child prodogies. Saying it in a nice way he will not be the first person in the world to be the smartest peson in the room. Literally speaking. It happens all the time. Just continue to raise him to be a good peron as well as developing his God given intellectual skills and he will have the bet chance for a happy life.
Just prepare yourself one day to relinquish your managment of his life and allow him to stand on his own. Even when he makes decisions that you know to be wrong.
I am a bit worried, since your reason for being right now is your children, what will happen when they grow up and move away and become independent adults. How will you handle it? Will you have the fortitude to let them seperate from you without feeling betrayed? Start thinking about this now and and preparing yourself because it is going to happen, or at least it should happen.

10:34 PM  

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