Book Review of

"Michael Kearney, 'Accidental Genius'"

Robert N. Seitz

    Couldn't put it down. I think that this is a "MUST READ" for parents of highly gifted children and a "GOOD READ" for all of us.
    Michael Kearney began to say, "Daddy," and "Mama" at four months. When he was six months, his mother took him to a pediatrician with an ear infection. When the pediatrician said, "Now, Mrs. Kearney, what seems to be Michael's problem?" Michael said, "I have a left-ear infection." When he was 10 months old, he learned to read, with the following amusing consequences.
    "For instance, most parents get to go through a phase of child rearing where you can spell out to your partner whatever you don't want the children to know. For us this phase lasted about two weeks when Michael was only ten months old.
    I would say to Cassidy , 'Why don't we go out and get some F-R-E-N-C-H F-R-I-E-S?'
    Michael would chime in from the baby stroller, 'That sounds good. Let's go to M-C-D-O-N-A-L-D-S.'.
    This was another great game to play."
    "Somehow, we ended up giving Michael responsibility for reading the road signs for us. He always took his responsibilities very seriously. Michael would repetitively read aloud all the road signs he recognized.
    'Von's.' 'Sunoco.' 'Dad, the sign says 55, not 60. You're going too fast, Dad.'
    ''Michael, Daddy has special permission to go 60.'
    'That's not what the sign says, Dad.'
    'Thank you, Michael. Why don't you read the license plates for a while.'"
    "In the supermarket checkout line he might say about the lady behind us, 'Dad, look at that fat lady. She's enormous.' Of course, people assumed that I had put him up to it.
    I would say, 'Michael, be quiet, you're embarrassing me.'
    He would say, 'But she's fat! Look at her! Is she going to eat all that ice cream?'
    People already thought that I was a ventriloquist. Cassidy and I worked out with Michael that he would whisper his comments to us. That actually worked, especially when Michael spotted the fat lady again and whispered, 'Dad, hide the ice cream.'
    At five, Michael entered high school, completing it nine months later. At the age of six, he then enrolled at San Joaquin Junior College, where he majored in geology. At eight, he transferred to the University of South Alabama, where he graduated fourteen months later at the age of ten, with a 3.6 average and a degree in anthropology. After taking off eighteen months, he enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University, graduating with an M. S. in chemistry in August, 1998 at the age of fourteen.
    Michael is the holder of four world records (for early enrollment and graduation) in the Guinness Book of World Records.
    Although trailing him academically, Michael's sister Maeghan, who is fourteen months younger than Michael, is said to be as bright as Michael. Maeghan is currently enrolled as a sophomore (?) at Middle Tennessee State University, and eventually hopes to become a veterinarian.
    In spite of being two of the most precocious children on record, it is astonishing (and a little frightening) to me how often the Kearney children were misdiagnosed or mishandled. When Michael was born toxemic, and prematurely, the Kearneys were told that he might be brain damaged and retarded. They went all out from Day One to stimulate his mind. They little imagined that they would be confronted with a super-prodigy–an "accidental genius".
    It should be emphasized that, after determining that Michael wasn't retarded, the Kearneys haven't pushed Michael and Maeghan, but instead, have had to run to stay ahead of them. Both children are highly energetic, require relatively little sleep, and are "black holes" for knowledge. One of the Kearneys' concerns is that it would be very easy to misdiagnose hyper-energetic children like Michael and Maeghan and conclude that they are suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
    To me, one of the striking aspects of the children's upbringing is the fact that their parents are doing their level best to insure that (unlike less-fortunate prodigies), they are well adjusted to the world.
    The Kearneys have evidence that there may be thousands of children showing up throughout the country with the kind of energy and rage-to-learn that has characterized Michael and Maeghan. The Kearneys think that their dedication to keeping their children supplied with fresh knowledge allowed a flowering of their children's minds that made possible their full mental development. They are very concerned that other children are, perhaps, being misdiagnosed, just as were Michael and Cassidy, Of course, our school systems may not be well-geared to accommodate children at this level of rarity, and yet, these are the children who on whom we are depending to light the world. For the parents of such children, I think "Accidental Genius" is a necessity.