Bow ties and freshers' week were not for this boy genius

2nd March 2012 at 00:00
A maths prodigy's parents say school is the best place for the gifted

His remarkable talents have earned him the label "child genius" and have brought him extraordinary academic success. But maths prodigy Cameron Thompson, who is studying for a degree at the age of just 14, still goes to his local state school full-time and attends the same classes as other children of his age.

Now he and his parents, Rod and Alison, have written a book recounting Cameron's story to show how their approach to education can help other gifted children - and stop them being "paraded around like some sort of prizewinning poodle at Crufts".

The key, they say, is to keep gifted children such as Cameron at a normal local school and in a class of peers. The Thompsons have refused to send him to college or university. In the book the family describe Cameron's difficult experiences in school, his diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome and how he and his teachers eventually found a solution.

At the age of 4 it was clear something was up: Cameron would break into tears at the end of the school day because he was so sad it was over. But 10 years later he is one of the Open University's youngest students, due to graduate when his classmates are completing their GCSEs.

Last year he was the subject of a BBC documentary, The Growing Pains of a "Teenage Genius". But his family say they find it "utterly heartbreaking" when they see parents in a similar situation damage their children emotionally by sending them away to university, forcing them to grow up too quickly.

"We have also seen, quite sadly, numerous occasions where parents went out of their way to set their children apart from their peers: they were discouraged from interacting with others because 'they were better than them'; they were dressed up in suits and bow ties," they write in the book, Gifted! The Story of a "Teenage Genius".

"Cameron is a real one-off: he is in a league of his own," said Enid Moore, who runs the autism communications centre at Cameron's school, Darland High in Wrexham, North Wales. "I've never met anyone so capable in maths. It's been an experience for all of us."

He was like an "absent-minded professor wrapped up in a frail body", Ms Moore added. "We encourage normality for him, but I'm also here for him when needed. He is learning to take the knocks."

Cameron has attended three secondary schools, switching once because his family moved home and again due to bullying. But his family rejected sixth-form college or university because the environment would have been "wholly unsuitable for his level of social and emotional development at that time". "We could not see any way that a frankly socially immature boy would fit into an environment of young adults," his parents say in the book.

Distance learning allows Cameron to remain in a class with pupils of his own age and prevents him from becoming bored: he can study at his own pace. During maths lessons he completes his degree work. Teachers monitor him and help when necessary. They did not let him take mock or real exams until they thought he could cope with both the material and the pressure of taking the test.

Life has been far from easy, however. Take, for example, A-level results day. Teenagers were planning alcohol-fuelled celebrations, while Cameron was getting excited about the Doctor Who figure he was about to buy. But when he appeared on the BBC documentary, other pupils started treating him like a "celebrity". He went from 50 Facebook friends to 350 in two days.

"Everybody thinks university is the only option for gifted children and we wanted to show there is an alternative solution," Mr Thompson told TES. "You can quench your child's thirst for knowledge at the same time as looking after their social needs."

The self-published book can be bought for the Kindle at www.amazon.co.uk. Half the proceeds will be donated to the National Association for Gifted Children.

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