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A Case of Brilliance

An excerpt from the book by Rebecca Hein

Before Annette was born, we rarely talked about Ellis’ learning processes or his early school experiences. However, as I became more puzzled by...[Annette’s] urges to pounce on the most complex musical information available, I began to ask Ellis more questions about his own mind.

My curiosity intensified after our second child, Lewis, was born. Ellis, while watching eighteen-month-old Lewis turn a puzzle upside down and still assemble it effortlessly, would comment, “Yup, it’s easy; just turn the picture of the puzzle around in your head.” He talked as though his brain was Lewis’ brain; there appeared to be no obstacles in his understanding of Lewis’ mental processes.

By the time Lewis was two or three years old, I’d had time to get used to the uncanny similarities of intellect between Ellis and the children. However, the first time we discussed Annette and her thirst for complexity, such a close resemblance was a new idea to me. As I quizzed him about the way in which his highly unusual learning processes matched hers, I began to realize that whatever I was up against in teaching Annette, it was a trait shared by at least one other member of our family.


One of my primary functions as Lewis’ teacher became the providing of empathy, helping him to handle frustration, and pointing the way toward technical mastery.

The other challenge did not abate: that of learning to honor his drives while still retaining enough authority to offer the necessary guidance. Music reading continued far beyond his playing ability, but it was like Annette and the flashcards: it didn’t bother him. He’d sit with the cello and bow in his hands, and stare at the page of music, not hearing anything I was saying to him. It didn’t concern him in the slightest that he understood only a small fraction of what he was looking at. In fact, that was just what he liked about it. With my capacity for occasionally walking into his brain, I could see what was going on. This was “tall,” [grown up], his mental abilities were vast, and that page in front of him beckoned with all sorts of things to learn and puzzles to solve.

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