He became a member of Mensa at age four. He gives talks at NASA. He’s homeschooled because regular class work doesn’t challenge him. Yet ironically, he cannot get into college as a full-time student.
That’s the predicament of Tanishq Abraham, a nine-year-old prodigy from Sacramento, California.
After several colleges turned him down because of his age, Tanishq and his parents began piecing together an education that includes homeschooling, spelling and science bees and, at last, some classes at American River College, a local community college.
“All of the classes are easy for me,” he said, chuckling. “I still read the books and materials they recommend so that I’m sure I know everything. I kind of do have that natural understanding, but I just want to make sure.”
Tanishq says he’s steamrolling through the science material, though he does admit language arts gives him some difficulty. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he has taken advanced college-level courses in astronomy, chemistry, geology, biotech, history and computer programming.
And while Tanishq keeps busy with a voracious appetite for learning, he says he still manages to squeeze in play time with friends his age and participates in a choir group. His mom, Taji, admits it’s a lot of work driving him around to his various activities.
“I do normal stuff kids my age do, like play,” he said, adding that he also has college friends, mostly from the astronomy club at American River College. His mom says he also likes playing the piano (He gave a recital at age three.), tennis, table tennis, Wii games and watching TV.
Taji, a veterinarian, says she first thought something was unusual about Tanishq when he expressed interest in books as a baby.
“He was very curious what was in them,” she said. “He enjoyed listening when I’d read to him, and he’d grab the book and try to flip pages.”
Taji mentioned her observations to her husband Bijou, a computer programmer for underwater remotely operated vehicles, who suggested it was more a case of a new mom thinking her baby was the best.
But the evidence kept piling up.
“He became fascinated with clocks,” said Taji. “Around two [years old], he could read a clock and tell time.”
By four, Tanishq was accepted to Mensa, the world renowned organization for people of high intelligence. And by five, he was already speeding past his peers in reading comprehension.
“In a week or two he jumped to second-grade level books, joined the accelerated reading program and after a few months, he jumped to third and fourth grade level books, scoring about 95 percent on comprehension quizzes,” Taji said. “Now, he’s in the fifth grade but doing seventh grade English and eighth grade math through Stanford [University]’s online program for gifted children.”
Taji is quick to defend against those who say parents shouldn’t push their kids.
“People think the parents push the children and say we are not giving him a childhood,” she said. “That’s just not the case. He’s really enjoying his childhood. In fact, it’s the other way around. He has the passion and the drive to learn and do things. We just can’t stop him. At six, he Googled up everything to see what courses were being offered in Sacramento.”
According to Tanishq’s mom, it was her son’s idea to start taking college courses.
Tanishq was rejected from several higher education institutions before finally being given a chance to take a course at American River College where, at seven, he audited an advanced geology course. Stephen Sterling, the professor, had to convince other faculty members to allow a young child to attend classes.
“I told the dean, ‘You don’t get it,’” said Sterling. “‘He’s going to be done with a BA [Bachelor of Arts] at 11, and have a doctorate from Stanford at 16 or 17. Where’s he going to say he got his start?’”
Sterling says the dean was receptive but “rolled her eyes a bit.” Now, he says, everyone who’s met Tanishq “totally knows what he’s all about.”
The young prodigy initially had to be accompanied by his mom.
“I registered as a student, and he could come and read my materials,” said Taji. “He would study with me. We were like study partners. That’s how he learned geology. Then the professors realized he had so much potential, and so we went back to the college, and they allowed him to officially enrol.”
Since then, Sterling has taken Tanishq, who is still not a full-time student, under his wing.
“He got the highest score in the class,” Sterling said, adding that during the daily quizzes, he noticed Tanishq was peering at his mom’s papers and thought he might be looking for help.
“I didn’t really care because he was auditing,” he said.
Then, during the final exam, Sterling says he saw Tanishq again looking at his mother’s paper, but this time he heard Tanishq telling his mom she had something wrong.
“He’d been helping her the whole time, not the other way around,” Sterling said. “He got an A,” adding that it was amazing to read these highly developed, sophisticated test answers all in child’s handwriting.
Sterling can’t believe colleges and universities aren’t jumping at the chance to enrol Tanishq.
“If I was at Stanford, I’d be saying to the president, ‘We need to get this kid here.’” he said. “‘By the time he’s 35, he’s going to be a billionaire and giving to our university.’”
Sterling says that in addition to being a great student, Tanishq is a very well liked member of the school community. He never shows off and is always willing to help his classmates.
And what does Tanishq want to do when he grows up?
“That’s simple,” he says. “A scientist, doctor or president of the United States. But I have to wait until around 2040, because I have to be 35 to become president.”
His vice presidential choice might end up being his younger sister, who also was accepted to Mensa at the age of four.
Below is an episode of the YouTube show "Prodigies" featuring Tanishq.