Prodigy? Child with Autism? One and The Same?

For the longest time, I thought my son was a prodigy. Then I began reading about kids who wrote and passed around newsletters on how truly un-nutritious their cafeteria food really was -- in fourth grade!  And won spelling bees by correctly spelling kneidel (a Hebrew word for matzoh balls but who knew?).  And invented a test for breast cancer (she was in high school, but still).

And my son began getting B's.

Christie McNicholson reports at that there's actually a child who spoke his first word at three months (mine's first was "squirrel"  -- go figure!), learned the entire alphabet by eight months, went to college at nine, developed a new form of mathematics and by age 13 had written a research paper accepted by a math journal. Now that's a prodigy.

 Apparently there's just one trait shared by all prodigies.  Guess what it is?  Sounds a little too crazy to be true but it's a good working memory, not IQ.  And it's actually one that prodigies and children with autism have in common, according to psychologist  Joanne Ruthsatz, as McNicholson reports. Four out of eight children who are prodigies have autism in their family, McNicholson notes that Ruthsatz uncovered in her recent study.

"I think the child prodigies are reliant on the talent that is sometimes associated with autism and with autistic traits," Ruthsatz told McNicholson in an interview. "However, they do not display the deficits. And so I believe there’s a genetic modifier that is holding back the deficits and allowing that talent to shine through."

What is working memory? It's "the ability to hold information in your mind and then manipulate it and recite it in a different order, which is very, very difficult, Ruthsatz told McNicholson. Another trait?  Attention to detail (I'm out!).  And certainly, high intelligence is involved, as well as "domain-specific" skills (like math).

Many children diagnosed early with autism have very high verbal skills and, quite unexpectedly, are social, just like prodigies. But, as Ruthsatz points out in McNicholson's story, they relate much better to adults because not many seven-year-olds want to talk about "black holes," the psychologist humorously relates.

So is your child a prodigy?  By a very early age most parents know, Ruthsatz implies.  Mine isn't.  He's a smart boy, who obviously got his dad's math genes because he's very good at it.  But a prodigy, not.  Guess I'll just have to keep him anyway!


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