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, January 27, 2007

Tiarnan and the wiring

Today, I took Tiarnan and Ainan to see a laboratory. It is a place where Ainan might further develop his chemistry skills, this time in a practical, experimental context. The place was beautiful: an old-fashioned deep brown, wooden affair, with ancient walls, that have looked down on generations of chemistry students. In cabinets, all around those walls were an abundance of bottles containing coloured chemical solutions of a huge variety - and bottles of named powders too. Each container was formally labelled with its contents. The atmosphere was so intellectually seductive that it made one feel an instant need to become a chemist, just to work there.

I expected Ainan to be interested - and he was, in his own quiet way, gazing at the laden shelves of chemicals and taking in the dark interior of this old lab. What I didn't expect was Tiarnan's reaction. He did something rather unusual. He pointed to a switch on the wall. My wife said: "Button"...but he seemed to ignore that: his attention was drawn by something else. He pointed at the switch, then turned away from it, his eyes tracking across the room and pointed at a bell. He was telling his mum that the button was for the bell. It was a spooky moment, for weaving its way amongst the dark, wooden interior across some distance, was a wire from the button, to the bell...Somehow Tiarnan had deduced that it was the wire which linked button to bell and that in doing so one would ring the other. To do so, he had to follow the path of the wire with his gaze, until it terminated at the bell. Then he had to infer the purpose of that connection. Tiarnan is one year and zero months old. All the wiring in our own home is hidden - so he has had no prior exposure to the idea of wires connecting buttons to the devices they operate. Yet, he noted this, the first time he had seen it, and made a correct deduction. Is Tiarnan to be a scientific wunderkind, too, like his elder brother, Ainan, seven?

It is moments like this, that show evidence of significant observational and deductive reasoning, that lead me to wonder whether there could be another such kid, on his way.

(If you would like to read more about Tiarnan, Ainan (a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and two months) or Fintan, three gifted brothers, please go to: I also write of education, particularly gifted education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)


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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 4:34 PM  0 comments

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tiarnan's sense of loss

How young can a baby feel a sense of loss at the departure of someone? I wonder because Tiarnan today appears to be pining for someone now absent.

For the past five months, we have had someone living in our house who used to spend a lot of time with Tiarnan. Every morning, she would take him for a walk to the playground and spend a couple of hours out with him.

This morning, Tiarnan seemed distressed. I held him in my arms and he pointed to where he wanted to go. His face grimaced with unshed tears and I understood, then, that he was searching for the one no longer here. In the course of the morning, he led me to all the haunts at which he might expect to find her, pointing the way out to me. Finally, he led me to her room, where he saw her empty bed. He directed me to take him on a tour of some of her remnant effects, unspeaking all the while, as he took in the very clear fact of her absence. I think he understood that she would not be here anymore.

It is sad to see Tiarnan so. He is too young to understand that people have lives to move on with and cannot be there all the time. Yet, the "absent one" had been a feature of his life, for almost half of his lifetime - the loss is something he evidently feels, acutely.

Every day, I learn something from my children that makes me appreciate better, what wonderful beings young children are - and the people they grow up to be, too (if all goes well enough!).

Have a hug Tiarnan. (He wanted lots of those today...a form of compensation I suppose.)

(If you would like to read more of Tiarnan, Fintan or Ainan (a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and two months), please go to: I also write of education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:06 PM  0 comments

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The advantages of being a child prodigy

Someone searched today, using the terms, "the advantages of being a child prodigy". I will try to answer them, here, for I think others might be interested too.

Are there any natural advantages to being a child prodigy? In absolute terms, the answer is a strong yes. A child prodigy generally learns a whole lot faster than other kids, reaches a higher standard of achievement much more quickly, and can, in the best cases, outmatch an adult in their chosen discipline, while still a child. That is quite a lot of natural advantage. Yet, there is a catch. You see, many societies, around the world, are set up to frustrate the natural child prodigies that emerge in their midst. Educational systems are inflexible and refuse to accommodate them. Teachers fail to understand them. Other kids - depending on the culture of the school and society at large - can ostracise them. The media can misunderstand them, too, and portray them inaccurately. There are many problems, therefore, which can befall a child prodigy and frustrate their natural ascent to the upper reaches of their chosen discipline.

I have no figures and it is most likely that there are no figures on how well child prodigies succeed in various societies around the world. Whether a child prodigy shines really depends on the particular society's answer to this question: do they want them to shine? Many societies seem to answer with a big no, so far reaching are the barriers placed in the way of an unusually gifted child. In such societies, what is innately a natural advantage, may operate as a disadvantage. The child may become bored, ostracised, isolated, and frustrated with the education system as it is. The child may choose to masquerade as ordinary, by "dumbing down" so as to fit in. There are so many things that can go wrong in the growth of such a child - and many societies seem to want such development to go wrong, so little do they do to help such children - or so much do they do to oppose them. This is not how it should be.

What happens if a child prodigy receives the support that they need, to grow as they might? Anything can happen with such children. Such a child could grow into an adult genius of great creative power - and change the discipline or disciplines that they choose to work in, forever. That is the ideal outcome - and it would probably be a whole lot more frequent if child prodigies received support, instead of opposition, as is more common. This opposition doesn't have to be direct, to be effective - it can simply be the variety of opposition known as utter indifference. Some societies do that: they just ignore the needs of their most gifted and hope they will just shut up and go away. That is not an approach that leads to the best outcome for the child - or for the world.

We need a world that nurtures the gifts of all its children - and not just educates the average to an acceptable level to allow them to function in a job (which is the implicit aim of almost all education systems). We may never have such a world - but at least we can try to create one.

So, in answer to my reader: there are natural advantages to being a child prodigy - but whether these advantages are expressed depends on the society that the child is resident in. Some will allow the child to flower - others will smother the child as best as they can. I hope for a world in which all such children can grow to the limit of their desire - for such a world promises to be a lot better than the one we live in. Each such child could add so much to the world, if only given the chance to do so.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:09 PM  4 comments

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fintan's sweetness of character

If I had one wish, it would be that everyone in the world could be as sweet natured as Fintan, three, for then it would be a happy world, indeed.

About a week ago, Fintan went to a party, at a school. There he played "educationally" with children of his age, learning some Chinese along the way. That, however, was not what struck me. When it came time to leave, Fintan spotted some sweets, on display and tucked into them, in seeming greed, coming up with a handful: four sweets, in all. He put them in his pocket.

"You can't take so many Fintan!" said his mummy.

He looked at her, with his open, innocent face, and announced: "One is for Abang, mummy, one is for Tiarnan, one is for Daddy and one is for me."

Abang is a term of respect, meaning "Older brother" and refers, of course, to Ainan.

Far from being greedy, Fintan, as is usual with him, had thought of others - and made sure that each of the important sweet eaters in his life, had one sweet, each. What is notable is that none of those he thought of were witness to this - and so he could have quite easily consumed them all, himself, without any of us knowing. But that isn't Fintan's way: his thoughts were for others and what they would enjoy.

Since I became a father, I have become an observer of the behaviour of other people's children, too. Most of my observations come from Singapore. It is much more common among little children, here - and probably elsewhere - to see instinctive selfishness on display - those who think of themselves, alone, appear to be in the majority. It is warming, therefore, to see Fintan's behaviour - for his type of thinking leads to the development of a person who makes a good friend, a good father, a good husband - and a good person, generally. One day, I hope, Fintan will be all three: he is already the first to his brothers and the last, for sure.

(If you would like to read of more tales of Fintan, Tiarnan or Ainan Celeste Cawley, please go to: I also write of education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults, and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:45 PM  2 comments

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Observation of Ainan's composure under stress

When I was a boy, my least favourite time was the taking of examinations. I always managed to do well...but I also always managed to feel very stressed by them. I can't say I enjoyed them, but society requires them of its children, for their advancement, and so, like most others, I endured them.

Yesterday I had the chance to observe Ainan in the same situation. His reaction was unlike mine: he was very composed, quiet, contained, focussed. Perhaps he felt the stress of it, but he didn't appear stressed - it was all very much under control within.

When he had finished, I asked him how it was. He gave a one word answer: "Fine", with a little nod. That minimalism is again Ainan's style: the matter was done, he had felt it went "fine" - and that was that: on to the next challenge.

Looking at the way he was, I must say I prefer his reaction to the one I remember for myself. It seems probable that he will have a better time of educational stresses than I did: from yesterday's example it seems fairly sure. I am thankful for that.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:37 PM  0 comments

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tiarnan at the safari

To celebrate Tiarnan's first birthday, yesterday, we had a themed party - as usual. This time the theme was "safari". Tiarnan was dressed as a bird, with feathers all over and bird feet. I came as a tiger - as did Fintan - and Ainan was a cheetah, spots and all. Syahidah was a ladybird - red and black spotted. We were the "animal" family for the day.

Tiarnan was at first a little surprised by the appearance of his family - but soon settled down and enjoyed the party. He had some little friends over - and was delighted with his day.

The most memorable moment was when he sat quietly down looking at his bird costume and his bird feet, his face alive with the comedy of it all, in a big, wondering smile. He seemed to be thinking how funny he looked.

I am presently unable to upload photos but I will try to address this in the coming week.

Thanks to those attended his party, and for your thoughtful gifts (which he has been playing with all day).

(If you would like more tales of Tiarnan, or his gifted brothers, including scientific child prodigy, Ainan Celeste Cawley, seven years and one month, please go to: I also write of education, child prodigy, child genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted children and gifted adults in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 3:51 PM  0 comments

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