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, September 22, 2012

Perception of the parents of gifted children.

Sometimes, the world thinks strange things about the parents of gifted children, particularly prodigious children. I would like you to imagine what you would think, if you were a University administrator, and someone you didn't know wrote to you about their child – say 8 to 12 years old – and asked about whether the University would accept them, on a degree course – and pointed out that they were already on a degree program elsewhere. What would you think? Be honest.

I have had this experience. I have written to Universities enquiring about whether they would accept my child prodigy son onto their courses, giving them some detail of his achievements. Indeed, I once wrote to the American University of Beirut, Lebanon and asked them that very question. The reason I did so, is I was looking for somewhere for Ainan to continue his studies, at tertiary level. At the time, he was already doing tertiary studies somewhere, but we were considering where he might go for his next step after that. The reason I looked at AUB is because it is the only place I found that offers a full range of American style education, outside of the United States. Not only that, but we know people in that city – and the University states, on its website, that it “supports gifted students”...whatever that means.

Can you guess how their admissions office responded to this attempt at contact? Give it your best shot.

The answer is they didn’t reply at all – despite me writing to them twice, over a five or six week period. Given their long silence after the first attempt to contact them, I assumed they thought I was joking, and so, in my second email, I gave them more details about Ainan’s achievements and needs – and actually said, “This is not a joke. It is a serious admissions enquiry”. Again, no reply was ever received.

Now, I talked this over with my wife and from their silence to what should be a very interesting enquiry, we concluded that the American University of Beirut admissions staff believed one of two things: either that we were joking, or that we were mad. If they at all believed that we were in any way serious or truthful, they would have replied, probably quite quickly.

This kind of situation is a definite problem for the parents of prodigious children. The difficulty is that prodigious children are rare enough such that many academic administrators and professors, have never met one in their field, in the course of their careers. Being unacquainted with prodigies and unfamiliar with what they are able to do, it is quite easy for them, therefore, to doubt the parents, when they are contacted by them. We had that problem, too, long ago, in Singapore, when we first tried to alert the education system to Ainan’s particular gifts, when he was six years old. Their response was not to take our word for it, but to subject Ainan to a several months long assessment and testing period. The Vice-Principal of his school actually SCOFFED at us, when we told him about our son’s gifts, saying, in reference to the tests to come, “We’ll soon see about his so-called giftedness.” I thought their response was bizarre. Rather than give the parents the benefit of the doubt, they assumed, immediately, that the parents were wrong – and set about not to prove them right, but to try to prove them wrong. It was a very unsettling response to witness.

So, again, with the American University of Beirut, I saw this strangeness in their non-response. If they gave us any credit at all, they would have replied, but they didn’t. Thus, it seems they assumed that we were either lying, joking, or just plain bonkers. This, of course, tells me a lot about them. It says that the American University of Beirut had probably never had a child prodigy, in living memory, certainly not one as young and accomplished as Ainan is, for his age. They just didn’t believe me.

This is all very telling and may explain something that I have observed, in the lives of the child prodigies I have become personally acquainted with either directly, or via correspondence. All the ones we have been in contact with, have eventually ended up in the United States for their education. That is right: they all follow the pattern of trying to find local solutions to the problem of educating their child, but ultimately, they end up in the United States. Why do they do this, you might wonder? Well, the American University of Beirut provides an answer: they do this, because they get stonewalled elsewhere. They are either ignored by Universities, or “given the run around”, in their own countries and others they try, nearby, so eventually they give up trying to find a local education – and they try the United States. The USA, on the other hand, usually says “yes, please”, to such children – and so the families relocate for the education of their children. We, personally, know three cases of Asian prodigious children, who have emigrated to the United States, for a tertiary education. We don’t, personally, know of any others who have stayed in their home countries, for such an education. (As you probably know, we left Singapore for Malaysia, at the behest of a University place for our son, here.)

The United States is very familiar with coping with prodigious children. It is a highly populated country, so there are quite a few prodigious children across the nation. The Universities there are accustomed to accepting the occasional child onto their programs. In fact, some American Universities seem specifically prepared to do so. The USA is open to prodigious children in a way that many countries are not.

We have also contacted American Universities about Ainan, over the years. Every single American University replied to us, with positive interest – and usually quite quickly. Even prestigious Universities responded with prompt interest. This is in sharp contrast to the silence of the American University of Beirut, and some Universities in Asia (tactfully unnamed, for reasons of discretion – since we are still in Asia).

So, should you be the parent of a prodigiously gifted child, or know such a parent, I would urge you (or them) to be aware that not everyone will greet your requests on the behalf of your child, with interest or enthusiasm. In quite a few countries, you will be greeted with puzzlement, or disbelief – or even worse. That being said, there are establishments that will take on such children – though you may have to move countries or even continents to find them...after all, we did. Good luck.

Posted by Valentine Cawley

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:50 AM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank God Ainan has parents who are prepared to move country to get their child the education he needs.

Some parents wouldn't even fight to get their kid moved to a different class, so intimidated were they by the school's apparent "authority" with regard to matters of education. I know of what I speak.

9:39 PM  
Blogger pragya said...

Mr. Crawley,
I recently started going thru ur blogs out of pure curiosity. My daughter is very young right now, n i am very hesitant to talk about this with anybody, so i thought maybe you wouldn't dismiss me as bragging.
My daughter is about to turn 7 months (see, i said, very young). Almost everybody we meet comments on how active she is compared to her age. physically, she is slightly on the earlier side, cruises a little, tries to climb small steps, n such. Verbally she speaks mummy, mamma n like n does sometimes says things like 'what happened' 'where has it gone' 'who came' (in Hindi, we r from India) that we wonder were intentional or just a coincidential babbling that made sense...

More impressive though are her mental achievements. She correctly identifies colors (red, green, blue, yellow, orange, pink, white n black) n fruits (apple, strawberry, orange, banana, pineapple, mango). she also can sight read a few words (the colors i know for sure, but lately she had developed an aversion for being tested so i m not sure if there are more such words). she loves scribbling, n though most of the time the pen is in her mouth (still very much on the mouthing everything stage)she often holds the pen v much the 'correct' way, n tries to write (isn't able to hold on for long n gets back to the fist-holding-scribbling pattern).
As i said earlier, i know this is way early. i don't want to overexpect or overburden her. But it seems anything we buy for her, toys, books, she just seems to need more. I sometimes feel overwhelmed. But simultaneously i don't want her potential to wear down for lack of stimulation.... I feel a bit underprepared........ Any advice would be very helpful....

2:36 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you 7 Sigma...We are just trying.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Dear Pragya,

I am sorry I haven't answered this sooner. I have been very busy and have let my messages pile up.

The best advice, with raising any gifted child, is to see what interests them, and provide materials in those areas of interest. Be guided by the child's response. You say that your child has "an aversion to being tested" on certain materials...that is a sign that the child does not want any more of that, right now...and should be respected. Go with what they choose to do and choose to like. Best of luck.

3:13 PM  

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