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, December 06, 2010

On refolding reality

On December 1st, Tiarnan, four, brought something unusual to the dinner table.

In his chunky little hands, he held a paper ornament, made of thin card. It was grey and instantly suggestive of something – at least, to me.

“What is that?”, asked Fintan, seven, peering curiously across the table at his younger brother.

“An elephant.”, I said, answering for Tiarnan, without pausing to reflect whether I should do so. Indeed, that is what it was: an origami elephant. Tiarnan’s teacher had made it at school, for him.

Tiarnan’s eyes were held captive by his paper elephant, but his mind was on other possibilities. He spoke, at once, on hearing my description, managing to declare his thought, even before mine had faded in the room.

“But it can turn into a plane!”, Tiarnan exclaimed. He then set about, immediately, unfolding the elephant, and making it into a plane.

In a few seconds, his elephant had become a jet fighter. He moved it through the air, as if on powerful jets, for Fintan to see.

Fintan was enamoured of the new born plane, in an instant, and reached over to Tiarnan to take it from him. Tiarnan obliged without argument, perhaps wishing to share the experience of the plane he had made from an elephant.

I watched Fintan play with the plane. It shot back and forth along the dining room table, propelled by its young, external, pilot. Though it didn’t show on my face, I smiled inwardly to see Fintan enjoy something so simple, so much. Indeed, it was wonderful to be a child, of such an age, that such things delight.

Tiarnan watched, attentively, from across the table, seeming to enjoy the sight almost as much as if he piloted it himself.

Seeing the plane fly gave a new meaning to “flying elephants” – for indeed, Tiarnan had made an elephant fly.

It was a perfect childhood scene, one both simple and beautiful. What made it more of interest, to me, is Tiarnan’s creative response to the situation. The elephant his teacher had made, was all very well. However, elephants don’t inspire children’s imaginations in the way that planes do. Yet, that had been no problem for Tiarnan. He had seen the possibility of a plane, within the folds of the elephant – and had remodelled it, in a moment, to suit the desires of his imagination, the better.

It is an essential part of the creative imagination, to be able to see what could be, in what is: to see the possibilities that lie unrealized in life and the moment. Tiarnan has that. It was such a casual simple thing for him to turn the elephant into a plane – yet so meaningful, too. Many children, you see, on seeing the paper elephant, would not be able to see it as anything but a paper elephant. Tiarnan, however, saw more deeply into it. He saw, without any evident delay, that the “elephant” could just as easily – and more enjoyably – become a plane, with a little judicious folding.

I wonder at what Tiarnan shall be, one day. He is such a blend of faculties, that it is difficult to say what he might make of them. He has many nascent gifts – gifts that don’t necessarily normally belong together, I think, in one person. Thus, he has the potential to become a most unexpected person – one who may not, reasonably, fit into any standard mould.

I have a hope that he will use his nascent creative powers to become a creative person of some kind. Of course, I can only hope that, for it is for him to choose what he will be. I see, though, quite clearly, that he has the basic mental foundations of a creative individual, of, perhaps, a surprising individual. I hope he chooses wisely and well, what he does with those powers and chooses to become a man worthy of the young child he is today. Yet, it is a long journey from now, to then. I can only help him along, in whatever way I am able, until the day he walks free in the world, without any need for help, at all. In the meantime, he can make elephants fly!

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 7 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 @ 10:01 PM 


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