Western Sydney mum Alana clearly remembers the day she realised she had a tiny genius in the house.
Her son Zachary was sitting next to his twin brother Lucas in their cot, poring over an infant’s primer.
“I stood in the doorway watching them for 15 minutes,” she recalls. “Zach was going over the letters and words, and he was saying ‘I’, ‘am’, ‘a’, basically showing Lucas what the words were. And I remember Zach ending up with “and that’s how you read” before getting out of the cot.” She chuckles. “He’s always been very straightforward like that.”
Zach at the time was barely three.
The youngest candidate in SBS’s second season of Child Genius Australia, the four-part documentary competition series overseen by Australian Mensa and featuring 16 of Australia’s brightest kids, has always been precociously smart according to mum Alana.
“We noticed that at a very early age, before he was even three, he was answering questions correctly on those children’s TV game shows."
“We noticed that at a very early age, before he was even three, he was answering questions correctly on those children’s TV game shows. At 18 months, he started picking up and reading books. He helped his younger brother learn to read. He’s in Year 3 now and does accelerated maths and science.”
“I love science,” Zachary chips in. “I want to be either an astrophysicist or a roboticist. I want to go to the moon, and take my guinea pigs too.”
Zachary, in Year 3, is not the only gifted member of the family. Older sister Sienna, 10, also took part in the show.
Like Zach, she showed astonishing potential early in life, Alana says. “She spoke in full sentences at 18 months, was very interested in books, very bright. She was moved to a composite class when she was in kindergarten, started doing Year 1 work. She’s in Year 5 now, and doing advanced maths and science. Maths is a strength for all the kids, actually.”
Alana has four other children – Zachary’s twin Lucas, Lachlan, 6, Aidan, 4, and little Thomas, 3. Zachary, who taught Lachlan to read, groans dramatically. “I like having a sister but having four brothers is a nightmare!”
The twin bond is strong but it can be hard for Lucas to always be facing comparisons with his gifted sibling, Alana says. “I think it can be hard for Lucas being compared to Zachary, but they are their own people, they’ve both got their special talents and strengths. We put them in separate classes and have given them the opportunity to develop separately. Lucas is right up there with the older two.”
At home in their busy household, Zachary is more often to be found tucked away reading a book than jumping on the trampoline with the other children. “He’s quite different to others,” Alana says. The challenge is finding somewhere he can find the right social fit, she says.
Being intellectually gifted can be a two-edged sword, agrees Sienna, a Year Five student who wants to be a doctor. “The good thing is getting harder work, challenging yourself, not being stuck at everyone else’s level, you get to do stuff and learn stuff and ask questions. The bad thing is that people always expect you to get stuff right all the time, and are always asking you questions.”
Being intellectually gifted can be a two-edged sword, agrees Sienna, a Year Five student who wants to be a doctor.
The nerves may have got the better off him under the spotlight, facing lights and cameras and being filmed, but it was an otherwise fun experience, Zachary says – especially practising on the answer button. The best bit? Meeting other children like himself, from pint-size mathematician James, the self-described ‘pi-man’, to anagram star and aspiring judge Justin. “I really liked Callum too – he had glasses like me.”
Ultimately, this was the best aspect of the show, says Alana – the chance for gifted children to find their tribe, a common language, social bonds, kinship and sense of acceptance in a society that too often prizes sporting prowess over intellect.
“I saw a different side to him. He was relaxed for the first time in his life. Going forward, I’d like the kids who are talented academically to also be acknowledged more in Australian culture.”