SALISBURY — Rowan County is officially home to a 4-year-old genius.
Michael Wimmer, who lives near High Rock Lake in Salisbury, has been accepted as one of the youngest members of Mensa International, a high-IQ society.
“We’re really proud he was able to have the intellect for that,” said his father, Mark. “You want your kids to do better than you, but we just didn’t expect it to happen at 4.”
His mother, Melissa, said she screamed with joy when the letter came, and Michael agreed, “she was acting crazy.”
“And what did you tell Daddy?” Melissa said.
Michael grinned, threw out his hands and said, “I got into smart club!”
Mark said he applied for Michael’s membership to Mensa because it provides resources for gifted children and their parents. Kids can access age-appropriate advanced reading lists, take online lessons, join educational field trips and connect with others of similar interests.
The international society requires that its members score in at least the 98th percentile for their age group on a standardized intelligence test.
When he was still 3 years old, Michael scored in the 99th percentile on a test administered by a state psychologist. That could mean he has an IQ of anywhere from about 140 to 160, Mark said. An IQ of 100 is meant to represent an average score.
Like many kids his age, Michael is full of energy, and he’s often running, jumping and bouncing around. But he takes on a certain maturity when he greets visitors with his name and a firm handshake.
Michael’s favorite activity right now is building with Lego blocks. During a Monday interview, he focused intently on the instructions for a set recommended for 7-to-12-year-olds.
He also loves the Pixar movie “Cars,” puzzles, swimming, riding his bicycle and playing soccer.
“He’s a normal 4-year-old with the exception of an insatiable desire to learn, and he retains everything he learns at a rapid rate,” Mark said. “Some families play 20 questions; we probably play 200 questions.”
Recently, he has asked how the blood circulates through the body, how people digest food and how plumbing systems work. And his parents say Michael seems to know when they fudge the answers.
“He keeps you laughing and on your toes,” Melissa said.
He can identify all 50 states by their shape, and he’s now working on learning their capitals, as well as the names of U.S. presidents.
Mark and Melissa said they decided to test their son’s intelligence because they were seeking early admission to kindergarten.
“Age-wise, he’s supposed to start not this coming year, but the following year,” Mark said. “His birthday is in September.”
In North Carolina, children who turn 5 years old after Aug. 31 are not eligible to enroll in public school until the next year. They can skip grades, but they can’t start school early.
Public schools have resources available for students with learning disabilities, Mark said, but there is hardly anything for gifted children in the earliest grades. He and Melissa are worried that Michael, like any bored child, could get restless and cause problems in class.
They said they are now looking at couple of private schools that can waive the starting age and offer more personalized instruction.
“He’s our only child, so we didn’t know that not every kid at 4 knows how to read and write,” Mark said. “People had told us he was very advanced, so we finally went and said, ‘Let’s see if we can get him enrolled early in school.’ ”
Even if Michael is admitted into kindergarten this year, he will still be ahead of his classmates. While they learn to recognize letters and words, he’ll be reading at a second-grade level.
But those classmates will be bigger, taller and a bit more grown-up than he is. That difference will be even larger if he starts at a higher grade, so they might decide to advance him slowly.
“I just want to make sure that if a majority of them are a year and half older, that he’s ready for all that,” Melissa said. “There will be challenges for him that they have already mastered.”
She and Mark say they want to encourage parents of gifted children not to give up on helping them reach their fullest potential.
“You’ve got to push for what you think your kid is capable of doing,” Mark said. “We don’t know where his potential is.”