Like many other 12-year-old boys, Caleb Anderson enjoys collecting action figures, watching Netflix and playing with Beyblades. He also happens to be a sophomore in college majoring in aerospace engineering.
Caleb is currently enrolled as a student at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, Georgia, where he’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree in two years. He hopes to continue his education at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology and eventually get an internship working for Elon Musk.
“When I was like 1, I always wanted to go to space,” Caleb, who’s favorite subject is math, told USA TODAY. “I figured that aerospace engineering would be the best path.”
Caleb’s mother, Claire, said she first realized her son was gifted when he began mimicking her speech at just 4 weeks old. At 9 months, he could sign more than 250 words in American Sign Language and had no trouble reading words he’d never seen before.
“I was getting my master’s in education so I knew that there was something special about that,” she said.
While enrolled in a traditional middle school, Claire Anderson, 46, said Caleb would breeze through tests without having to study because he already knew most of the material. The former teacher and current stay-at-home mom worried that he wasn’t being challenged enough.
“I didn’t like the character that was building in him,” she said. “He didn’t have any study skills, perseverance, grit. He didn’t ask for help.”
Both Claire and her husband, Kobi, acknowledged that at times his intelligence made it difficult for Caleb to make friends. Kobi Anderson, 45, recalled Caleb getting upset that his friends couldn’t communicate with him when he was just 3 years old.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.
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His father, who is an IT salesman, now supervises him on campus. But Kobi Anderson made it clear that Caleb has excelled way past the point of his dad being able to help with homework.
“We can’t do that,” he said with a laugh. “He’s already passed me in math.”
Although they can’t help him in the classroom, Claire Anderson said she’s focused on raising a well-rounded child and that starting college early helped relieve some of his anxiety.
“Both of us are not rocket scientists,” she said. “We had to learn there are other things that we can teach him about compassion, kindness, looking for good in others.”
Caleb agreed, too, that college is the best place for him.
“It’s really accepting,” he said. “People might think something about it, but they don’t show it which is really nice.”
The Andersons have two other children – Aaron, 8, and Hannah, 7, who are in the gifted program at their school. While they describe Caleb as verbally gifted, meaning he quickly picks up other languages, Aaron is good with numbers and Hannah excels at puzzles.
When asked what advice he had for other parents, Kobi Anderson said parents can start by advocating for their children’s academic growth in the same way achievements in areas like sports are celebrated.
“My wife frequently says ‘raise the child you have not the child that you want,'” he said. “You’ve got to nurture what nature gives you.”
Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg