Late Talking Children and the Einstein Syndrome

It’s well-known that autistic children tend to start to speak late. Another well-known fact is that gifted children tend to start to speak very early. At first glance, these two kinds of children couldn’t seem more different, however, there is a lot they have in common once you start to dig deeper. Late-Talking Children (2014) Stephen M. Camarata.

The author has an incredibly good intuition regarding neurodiverse children and fights against lumping them all under the ASD label. He writes about how much harm can be done to a child if she is misdiagnosed and how many children are given alphabet soup labels merely because they don’t fit easily into our school system.

There are typically three trajectories for late-talking children:

  1. They have some kind of pathology, typically ASD (negative life-outcome)
  2. They simply catch up with other children (neutral life-outcome)
  3. They turn out to be gifted in math, music and memory (three Ms), i.e. Einstein Syndrome (positive life-outcome)

This pattern is very similar to what we find in children with hyperlexia, which can be a sign of ASD, precocious development or giftedness. The difference being that “neurotypical” and gifted children being able to understand what they read.

What is amazing, however, is who similar these children are irrespective of the outcome. Here is how Thomas Sowell characterizes gifted children with Einstein Syndrome (who apart from Einstein himself, include great scientists like Richard Feynman and Edward Teller as well as famous musicians Clara Schumann and Arthur Rubinstein):

  • outstanding and precocious analytical or musical abilities (pattern recognition)
  • outstanding memories (common in ASD, in particular for special interests)
  • strong-willed behaviour (tantrums)
  • very selective interests (special interest)
  • extreme concentration on whatever task is occupying their time (hyperfocus)
  • delayed potty training (a sign of retardation????; common in ASD)
  • specific ability to read or use numbers or a computer (hyperlexia)

It’s not hard to see that the behaviour is very similar to the behaviour found in children with ASD, minus the pathological terminology: strong-willed vs tantrums, selective interests vs “special interests.

What’s even more striking, like Mr. Camarata I have a child who has all these symptoms. Except that he spoke extremely early and that he was able to read fluently at the age of two. What’s going on here?

I have argued before, that most of these children are actually “hunter-gatherer” type children. Their strong-will and tantrums are related to having egalitarian hunter-gatherer minds and that they are typically “orchid children” with vastly diverging life-outcomes. These children are not “calibrated” for a “farmer world”, and are often hypo- or hyper; very early vs very late speakers, in this case, but the phenomenon is much wider, e.g. hypo-/hypersocial, hypo-hyperlexic and hypo- or hypersensitive (e.g. to pain).

An important difference between my son and children with Einstein Syndrome is that he is verbally gifted whereas ES children are visually-mathematically gifted. This has got to do with what Simon-Baron calls a “male” (hunter) vs “female” (gather) brain. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all hunter-type children start to speak late, it’s just much more likely that they will be found among the late talkers, whereas the gatherer type children will more frequently found among the early talkers and therefore also be more likely to be identified as “gifted” rather than diagnosed with ASD.

Children with Einstein Syndrome also have high levels of allergies, myopia and left-handedness (often associated with creativity).

Whatever causes the different life-outcomes in hunter-gatherer type children, the early years seem to be much more critical for them than for farmer-herder type children. IMHO it’s important that clinicians, parents and teachers are aware of the possible outcomes and do their best for the child until further research will uncover the causes of the pathologies involved. However, we should be aware that a lot of what we tend to think of as pathologies are normal developmental trajectories for hunter-gatherer type children. Misdiagnosing or trying to “break” these children may make matters much worse and be at the root of problems like oppositional defiant disorder.

Originally published at on February 25, 2021.