A study of eight child prodigies finds that share some striking characteristics, most notably high levels of autistic traits and an overrepresentation of autism in their close family members

Martin Poole / Getty Images

MARTIN POOLE / GETTY IMAGES

Child prodigies evoke awe, wonder and sometimes jealousy: how can such young children display the kinds of musical or mathematical talents that most adults will never master, even with years of dedicated practice? Lucky for these despairing types, the prevailing wisdom suggests that such comparisons are unfair — prodigies are born, not made (mostly). Practice alone isn’t going to turn out the next 6-year-old Mozart.

So finds a recent study of eight young prodigies, which sought to shed some light on the roots of their talent. The prodigies included in the study [PDF] are all famous (but remain unidentified in the paper), having achieved acclaim and professional status in their fields by the ripe age of 10. Most are musical prodigies; one is an artist and another a math whiz, who developed a new discipline in mathematics and, by age 13, had had a paper accepted for publication in a mathematics journal. Two of the youngsters showed extraordinary skill in two separate fields: one child in music and art (his work now hangs in prestigious galleries the world over), and the other in music and molecular gastronomy (the science behind food preparation — why mayonnaise becomes firm or why a soufflé swells, for example). He became interested in food at age 10 and, by 11, had carried out his first catering event.

All of the prodigies had stories of remarkable early abilities: one infant began speaking at 3 months old and was reading by age 1; two others were reading at age 2. The gastronomist was programming computers at 3. Several children could reproduce complex pieces of music after hearing them just once, at the age most kids are finishing preschool. Many had toured internationally or played Lincoln Center or Carnegie Hall well before age 10.

Six of the prodigies were still children at the time of the study, which is slated for publication in the journal Intelligence. The other two participants were grown, aged 19 and 32.

(MORE: Should Depressed People Avoid Having Children?)

The study found a few key characteristics

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/10/what-child-prodigies-and-autistic-people-have-in-common/#ixzz20e54SLY2

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