Get book recommendations, tips & advice, and more tailored to your child's age.

Thank You!

The perfect book picks are on their way.

You're all set!
Swipe to look inside
The Prodigy's Cousin

The Prodigy's Cousin

The Family Link Between Autism and Extraordinary Talent


The Prodigy's Cousin

About the Book

We all know the autistic genius stereotypes. The absentminded professor with untied shoelaces. The geeky Silicon Valley programmer who writes bullet­proof code but can’t get a date. But there is another set of (tiny) geniuses whom you would never add to those ranks—child prodigies. We mostly know them as the chatty and charming tykes who liven up day­time TV with violin solos and engaging banter. These kids aren’t autistic, and there has never been any kind of scientific connection between autism and prodigy.
Until now.
Over the course of her career, psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz has quietly assembled the largest-ever research sample of these children. Their accomplishments are epic. One could reproduce radio tunes by ear on a toy guitar at two years old. Another was a thirteen-year-old cooking sensation. And what Ruthsatz’s investigation revealed is noth­ing short of astonishing. Though the prodigies aren’t autistic, many have autistic family members. Each prodigy has an extraordinary memory and a keen eye for detail—well-known but often-overlooked strengths associated with autism.
Ruthsatz and her daughter and coauthor, Kim­berly Stephens, now propose a startling possibility: What if the abilities of child prodigies stem from a genetic link with autism? And could prodigies— children who have many of the strengths of autism but few of the challenges—be the key to a long-awaited autism breakthrough?
In The Prodigy’s Cousin, Ruthsatz and Stephens narrate the poignant stories of the children they have studied, including that of a two-year-old who loved to spell words like “algorithm” and “confeder­ation,” a six-year-old painter who churned out mas­terpieces faster than her parents could hang them, and a typically developing thirteen-year-old who smacked his head against a church floor and woke up a music prodigy.
This inspiring tale of extraordinary children, indomitable parents, and a researcher’s unorthodox hunch is essential reading for anyone interested in the brain and human potential. Ruthsatz and Stephens take us from the prodigies’ homes to the depths of the autism archives to the cutting edge of genetics research, all while upending our under­standing of what makes exceptional talent possible.

Product Details

On sale: March 1, 2016
Page count: 272 Pages
ISBN: 9780698168602

Author Bio

JOANNE RUTHSATZ is an assistant professor of psychology at The Ohio State University. She has been interviewed on CBS’s 60 Minutes, and her research has been published in Intelligence, Behavior Genetics, Human Heredity, Journal for the Education of the Gifted, and Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Slate, and Scientific American. She has a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Case Western Reserve University.
KIMBERLY STEPHENS is a freelance journalist. She has coauthored academic papers on child prod­igies and is a member of the D.C. Science Writers Association. She is a graduate of Princeton Univer­sity and Harvard Law School.


 “This scientific page-turner could forever change how we view autistic individuals, child prodigies, and ourselves. Ruthsatz and Stephens may have written the Rosetta stone of talent development.”
—DAVID HENRY FELDMAN, author of Nature’s Gambit; chair, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development, Tufts University
The Prodigy’s Cousin is a refreshing counterpoint to the many books that focus on disability in children while ignoring their exceptionality. This book reminds us that every child has surprising gifts to be sought after and grown.”
—JOHN ELDER ROBISON, author of Look Me in the Eye; Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence, College of William & Mary
“This important book shows that autism and innate talent are linked. During a long career I’ve worked with many creative designers, inventors, and skilled tradespeople who were obviously undiagnosed individuals with autism.”
—TEMPLE GRANDIN, author of Thinking in Pictures
“This beautiful scientific detective story takes a hard look at the development of extraor­dinary children and presents groundbreaking evidence that the study of prodigies could actually advance our understanding of autism.”
—SCOTT BARRY KAUFMAN, author of Ungifted and Wired to Create
“The characters who populate The Prodigy’s Cousin are as magical and mysterious as comic book superheroes. Ruthsatz and Stephens take the reader on a quest to uncover the biological underpinnings of children whose talents are simply stunning.”
—DAVID EPSTEIN, author of The Sports Gene
“This book will enlighten you about the roots of autism and, more than that, change the way you think about what it means to be an ‘other.’ ”
—ERIC WEINER, author of The Geography of Genius
“Through portraits of prodigies and autists, Ruthsatz and Stephens reveal the overlap in the cognitive profiles of these two groups and present tantalizing evidence for a possible shared genetic mutation.”
—ELLEN WINNER, author of Gifted Children: Myths and Realities; professor of psychology, Boston College

"There's much more to be said about The Prodigy's Cousin and its many insights into the connections between autism and genius, but these are best discovered on your own. Read the book-it's quick and engaging, and I promise it will expand your perceptions both of prodigies and of what's possible for autistic kids."

"Whether or not their lives inform new clinical understandings, the stories of these extraordinary young achievers, growing up with unique gifts and challenges, deliver a fascinating look at the humanity behind the world of brilliant, unusual minds."
"People with an interest in autism or prodigies will be intrigued by the interesting hypothesis posed by this psychologist-journalist duo, who provide a lovely epilogue about what their young prodigies are doing today."