‘Other kids make fun of me. They love to see you fail,’ says Luca Manfredi. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/The Guardian
Luca was found to have an IQ of 158 when his academy tested its brightest year eight pupils – a recent offer to schools that Mensa credits with bringing in more young members. “They’d give a complicated word and ask for a synonym,” he remembers. “I’m not saying it was easy, but I just worked through.” He describes himself as a “human calculator”, and is now doing GCSE-level maths.
“I like studying variables and I’d love to use my maths inside Nasa,” he says. “People think of astronauts, but I want to understand how rockets are programmed and engineered.” Chatting at home after school, Luca is initially reserved, but talks with enthusiasm about studying. “I love having my mind challenged,” he says. “I knew my times tables in reception. By year two, I was doing year six multiplication and long division. I was years ahead, so they would give me algebra. I knew I was bright. We had maths puzzles at home and mum would turn everything into a game. She filled our house with books.”
Luca lives with his mother Patrizia, 42, an immigration officer, father Mark, 45, a transport worker, and younger brother Simone, seven. Patrizia was also a bright child, but did not have the opportunities or encouragement to pursue her love of learning. “I didn’t realise the importance of it,” she says. “As a mum, I try to support him practically and emotionally. I make sure there are books to feed his appetite for knowledge, and explain why children can be cruel, because they don’t understand the importance of certain things or have the right values. Our greatest wish is that our child fulfils his dreams. Being in Mensa is opening a lot of doors.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean job opportunities – Mensa’s consultant Lyn Kendall says that some members don’t put Mensa on their CVs as it can make employers wary. But it is a place to network: the organisation hosts social events for youngsters, has junior newsletters and web forums. Kendall also runs a Facebook group for parents. She says many don’t realise how gifted their children are until they begin education and socialising; while they fit in in their own, often intelligent, households, others notice their precociousness and impose identities on them. “The minute they go out into the world, they get people saying, ‘Aren’t you clever?’ at the time when they’re building an identity. They often don’t know how to fail or how to study. A lot of them refuse school or drop out of university because of their fear of failure. Unless you’re very careful, they can grow up to be very fragile people.”
Still, Luca says his maturity has left him feeling lonely. “No one likes a know-it-all,” he says. “Mum and dad have told me that being intelligent has negatives now, but will have positives when I do jobs that bring me happiness.”
Luca enjoys computer games and watching fantasy and action films, like Men In Black. “I’m always looking below the surface, wondering how creators came up with those characters.” At weekends, he hangs out with his younger brother and parents, or does extra maths papers. He has “a couple of friends”, but rarely goes on playdates and is happiest taking tests. “When I’ve done well, I’ve made myself and my family proud,” he says.
British child geniuses in numbers
1,991Members of Mensa, the high IQ society, who are under 17
600 Mensa members under 13
50% Increase in child members over the last five years
10½Age at which children can sit the adult intelligence test, comprising verbal and non-verbal reasoning papers
£250+ Cost of Mensa assessment with a private psychologist for younger children, using puzzles and games
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