Thomas Sowell

A decade ago -- in May 1993 -- this column first mentioned unusually bright little children who are also unusually late in beginning to speak. Unknown to me at the time, this set in motion some remarkable developments which have not yet run their course.

Letters from parents of such children in various parts of the country led to the creation of a support group of 55 families that kept in touch with one another, largely by mail, but also by phone and even some personal visits between parents in different states. It also led to two books, the most recent of which -- The Einstein Syndrome -- included research by Professor Stephen Camarata, a speech pathologist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and himself a late-talker.

Professor Camarata has his own support group of more than 600 families of late-talking children, spread across the United States and extending overseas. He is spearheading research on children with extraordinary abilities who nevertheless may not speak a complete sentence until they are three or four years old -- or older.

Albert Einstein was the most famous such person but there have been many others. One of the most remarkable late-talkers was a boy in India, born into a poor family named Ramanujan during the era of British rule there. He somehow came into possession of a book on mathematics, written by a leading British mathematician.

Young Ramanujan went through the book and taught himself mathematics. Then he went on to derive further mathematical implications on his own. Eventually, his work was recognized at Cambridge University and he was brought to England, where he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Music is another area in which some late-talking children have been remarkable. Famed nineteenth-century pianist Clara Schumann and famed twentieth-century pianist Arthur Rubinstein were both late-talking child prodigies.

Not all the children with what we call the Einstein syndrome become famous, of course. But whatever their levels of achievement or prominence, they have tended to have a pattern that includes remarkable abilities in what a professor at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute called "the three M's -- music, math, and memory."

The children in both my group and Professor Camarata's group tend to excel in mastering logic-based systems, whether mathematics, chess, pianos, or computers. More than four-fifths of these children are boys but the few girls among them share the same over-all pattern.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate

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