Stephen Hawking: Expert on 'tragedy' after speech synthesis
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Around that time, his father, Iñaki San Pedro, 41, and mother, Teresa Gomez- Franqueira, 38, were astonished to discover their baby knew all the letters of the alphabet. By 18 months, he was happily reading books without any adult help and could recognise all the flags of the world. Leo’s parents, originally from Spain, were so taken aback by his amazing capacity for learning they arranged for a psychologist to assess his abilities and discovered their son’s intelligence placed him in the top two percent of the population. He scored 172 on an IQ assessment – substantially higher than the late Professor Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, whose projected score is 160. It resulted in Leo being accepted as one of Mensa’s youngest ever members at the age of two and a half.
Now aged seven, Leo has added fluent French to his list of languages and excels at Chinese, an interest sparked by his Chinese nanny. He achieved full marks in a Chinese language test designed for adults and recently passed his grade three piano and cello exams with distinction.
But Leo isn’t the only young bright spark with incredible talents in the UK. Growing numbers of children are joining the ining amous world’s oldest and most famous high IQ society.
Mensa was formed in Oxford in 1946 by Roland Berrill, a barrister, and Dr Lance Ware, a scientist and lawyer, with the organisation later spreading around the world.
There are currently about 20,000 members of British Mensa. New members among the under-11s have increased by 51 per cent from 197 in 2014 to 297 this year. There has also been a 19 per cent rise in under-18s over the same time EARLY 13. Without the coronavirus pandemic, numbers in both age groups would undoubtedly have been far higher since the testing programme has been put on hold.
Children aged 10 and a half or over can sit the Mensa supervised test, consisting of a verbal reasoning and a non-verbal reasoning assessment.
This is the same test taken by adults, but the measurement scales are weighted to take age into account at both ends of the spectrum. Anyone who scores in the top two per cent on either test is invited to join.
Younger children must be assessed for Mensa entry by a psychologist on a one-toone basis. Psychologists produce a report, indicating the percentile range into which the child’s abilities fall.
Mr San Pedro, who owns a meat importing company, said it became apparent early on that Leo was incredibly advanced.
“Since he was born, my wife and I realised Leo was different,” he said. “He was very aware of the world. He was paying close attention to everything. He said his first word at three months and two weeks: it was very clearly, ‘Papa, Papa, Papa’. He was only really a baby for four months, since by six months he could pull himself up on walls.”
Mr San Pedro, originally from Galicia, describes Leo as having an unusual “computer-brain”, which enabled him to memorise images from a very young age.
“When Leo was one year and two months old, he could name his miniature animal collection in three languages and sort them by continents, mammals, reptiles and birds,” he says.
“He was one and a half when he could recognise all the flags of the world and had memorised hundreds of pieces of art such as paintings and sculptures.”
Super-bright children have long been a national source of interest. Millions of Britons tuned in to six series of Channel 4’s Child Genius, hosted by Richard Osman.The programme pitted the country’s cleverest children against each other for the top prize, with the most recent winner named as 12-year-old Nishi Uggalle in 2019.
The teenager, from Audenshaw, Greater Manchester, joined Mensa at 10 and a half, and hopes to eventually become a theoretical physicist at Cambridge, like her idol, Professor Hawking.
One of the most famous child geniuses in this country was mathematician Ruth Lawrence, who became the youngest person to win a place at Oxford University’s St Hugh’s College at the age of 12.
Ruth completed her degree in two years, graduating at the age of 13 with a starred First in 1985 – the youngest British person to gain a first-class degree.
Now 49, the mother of four is an expert in mathematical knots – a form of algebra – and teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ruth is brilliant and successful in her field but is yet to emerge as the modernday Einstein her tutor at Oxford predicted she would become. What aged of 12 day Eins s happens to child geniuses when they grow up fascinates me, and helped inspire my new novel, One Ordinary Day At A Time. It features a former maths prodigy called Simon Sparks who helps Jodie Brook, a homeless single mother and school drop-out, in her quest to study English at Cambridge University’s Lucy Cavendish College.
At the age of 30, Simon’s life has not turned out as expected after he struggled to cope with early entry to the university when he was almost 15. He is still attempting to solve the world’s hardest mathematical problem, the Riemann Hypothesis.
Lynn Kendall, British Mensa’s gifted child consultant, says: “There are several areas in which extremely bright children can fall on the wrong side of the road later in life if they are not properly supported.”
She runs Family Mensa, a private Facebook support group for parents of bright young members and holds online workshops for five to seven-year-olds and eight to 11-yearolds once a week.
This is a chance for the super-bright to meet children with similar interests. Mrs
Kendall teaches youngsters how to study, as well as fail, which are vital skills for the extremely clever.
She said: “I once did a lecture for a group of 50 Mensa members. Following the lecture, we were chatting and I asked how many of them had been to university. They all put their hands up.
‘Leo months could animal in “When I asked how many had finished university, it was fewer than half of them – the reason being they couldn’t socialise. They didn’t know how to study because they had relied on being able to soak up information so they never learnt how to present an argument and put things down so that other people could understand what they were doing.
“They couldn’t bear to fail and if you’ve had 18 years of being top of your class and then suddenly go to university, your legs are knocked out from under you.”
As a result, Mrs Kendall has developed her “four rules for success” to help parents develop the whole child and keep them grounded. These are: teach children how to study, how to fail, how to become a wellrounded person and ensure they mix with other bright children.
She also advises parents to “look after each other” and have date nights when they don’t discuss their child’s development or achievements. She added: “What you have to do is make sure that the child can also look after themselves and spend a bit of time on their own.
When was 14 old, he name his collection three languages’
“It’s a case of having a family first. The child is a member of the family and has equal rights in the family, but so do the other members. You don’t have to stop everything just because you’ve got a bright spark. Focus on developing that all-round person that’s got a really good image of themselves.”
Leo’s parents are doing just that. Mr San Pedro says his son has a huge appetite for learning but is still a normal boy who likes to play games on the iPad, watch TV, take part in sport and meet up with friends.
He and his wife want to show Leo “as many things as possible” so he can discover his true passion in life, but they are not pushing him.
For now, Leo has his sights on learning a new language such as German, Polish, Italian or Portuguese and either the guitar, ukulele or the drums. But he also likes the idea of being a spy. He said: “I do like computing and technology. I’m very interested in apps. I’d like to make a spy app or something like that.That would be cool.”
The future looks extremely bright for this little Einstein.
One Ordinary Day At A Time by Sarah J Harris (HarperCollins, £14.99) is published on Thursday. For free UK delivery, call Express Bookshop on 01872 562310
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