Child prodigy painter Autumn de Forest at age 7

Photo courtesy Autumn de Forest

Child prodigies wouldn't be considered such if they never had the opportunity to discover their talents. Let's take the example of Autumn de Forest, an 8-year-old who had spent plenty of time drawing with crayons and pencils before she recognized her true artistic abilities. Her father was in the basement staining a piece of wood when the then-5-year-old asked if she could use some of the leftover materials to play. Shortly thereafter, her father turned around to find quite a surprise. Autumn -- using the stain and a spare piece of wood -- had created a work that displayed an artistic ability far beyond her years.

The de Forests provided their daughter with access to large canvases and fine-arts supplies, and she began creating rather astounding works of abstract expressionism with a strong sense of form and control. Autumn began showing her works at "art-in-the-park" type functions and quickly gained attention for her undeniable talent. Before long, she was entering juried competitions where her works were viewed alongside those of dozens of adult artists -- and she was winning. Now, the 8-year-old's works -- mostly oil paintings on 4-foot-by-5-foot canvases -- sell for as much as $25,000.

Autumn's parents concede that a 5.5-inch-by-11-inch segment of one of her large canvases -- duplicated with crayons and construction paper -- wouldn't be the type of thing that would end up at auction (maybe just on the fridge). It wouldn't be unlike the Wright Brothers building bird houses, or Mozart playing the harmonica. Unless you find a child's specific talent -- and provide him or her with the exact means needed to express it -- it may go undiscovered. As Autumn's father points out, we don't see many gifted teenage orchestra conductors because of the near-impossibility of a child having the opportunity to work with an 80-piece orchestra. But if that opportunity did exist, we might soon see young gifted conductors emerge from the ranks.

So, how do you tell the prodigies from the other toddlers?