Is this the cleverest baby in Britain She's six months old, she's toilet-trained, can talk and even conduct an orchestra…
21:05 GMT, 13 April 2012
Mozart was just three when he mastered the harpsichord, Steffi Graf returned volleys with a powerful backhand when she was four, and Pablo Picasso completed his first painting (Le Picador) by the age of nine.
But could any of these precocious children ask for food, understand foreign languages, 'conduct' an imaginary orchestra to a 4/4 music beat and use a potty at just six months old I'm guessing not.
So meet the very intelligent Izabella Oniciuc, who at an age when most children are playing with their teddies while wearing Pampers, prefers not to lower herself to such indignity.
Sitting pretty: Izabella Oniciuic stunned experts after being potty trained – at the age of just six months
She asks for her potty when she needs to answer the call of nature and if it's not forth- coming, will apparently wait 'for hours' for her parents to fetch it.
Astonishing as this is — most babies are 32 months old before their mums can count on clean nappies — her potty training is the least of it. Her parents claim she can ask for milk, loves to read . . . and even knows a smattering of Romanian, her mother Reluca's native tongue.
But Izabella's precocity may be no accident. Her mother and father played the Baby Mozart album to her in the womb, made sure she was exposed to a range of languages after she was born, and refused to let her go to nursery school for fear it would hinder her development.
Experts say Izabella's behaviour is 'extremely unusual' — and her parents clearly believe that their little girl is something of a genius.
They claim she has been communicating with them since she was hours old, and they are doing everything they can to encourage her.
Her father Finn, 45, a chauffeur, says: 'I think all babies communicate, but I don't think we listen to them properly and we just think they're making gurgling sounds. I was sceptical at first, but when we realised Izabella was making sounds for specific things — such as “eh” for milk and “boo boo” for toilet — it was a revelation. Once you have deciphered those sounds, it's incredible. But babies soon give up if you don't respond.'
High hopes: Izabella with father Finn, 45, a chauffeur, and her Romanian mother Reluca
So what's the truth Is Izabella really a child genius or are her proud parents merely a little deluded
At their two-bedroom flat in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, Izabella is a picture of cuddly contentment. Snuggled up in Finn's arms on the sofa in their living room, she gazes up at him with huge chocolate-button eyes, while Reluca shows me a pale-pink album containing memories of their little girl's first months.
The grainy black-and-white image on the 12-week scan looks, well, like every other 12-week scan. But a 22-week 4D scan shows Izabella in glorious detail, fast asleep on the placenta.
As I look at the picture, we are interrupted by Izabella's murmurs. 'Ba ba do puh,' she says softly. Then, more insistently, she repeats: 'Ba ba do puh.'
'Here we go,' says Finn, passing Izabella to his wife, who undoes her daughter's nappy (she still wears them even though her parents insist they're never used). Finn disappears and quickly returns with a plastic potty that he places underneath his daughter so she can answer the call of nature. When a girl's got to go, she's got to go.
It is remarkable. As many a parent will know, potty training usually takes patience and many months, if not years, of coaxing to perfect.
Most children learn between 18 and 32 months, but it can take three years and even longer to perfect. Indeed, several horrified headteachers are reporting that some children are still not potty-trained by the age of five.
Izabella Oniciuic, with parents Reluca and Finn, from Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, who claim the tot has developed a series of noises to communicate her needs, including one for when she is hungry and tired
Jill Irving, a health visitor for parenting website BabyCentre, says: 'The average child will begin potty-training at 24 months. Before this, it is usually not physiologically possible, as a child cannot achieve voluntary control of their bowels.
'What Izabella's parents are practising is what we call “toilet timing” rather than “toilet training” — working on the principle of what goes in, must come out. If you sit a baby on a potty regularly enough, they will perform.'
Indeed, another method called 'Elimination Communication' — which involves placing a baby on a potty to encourage him or her to use it — has been around for decades, and is commonplace in some countries, including Reluca's native Romania.
But Reluca, 26, a full-time mother, insists that is not what she and Finn are doing. 'What people don't seem to realise is we have never put her on her potty without her asking us for it,' she says.
'We were on the motorway last week and she asked to go, and we had to wait for some time before we could safely get off the road. But, even so, she refused to go in her nappy.'
While the idea of a six-month-old baby 'asking' for anything is incredible, Finn and Reluca claim Izabella also understands several languages and can recognise music and words.
She was something of a miracle for the couple even before they learnt of her unusual abilities, coming as she did after a long struggle to conceive.
Composer Mozart was just three when he mastered the harpsichord, Izabella's parents are hoping she will follow in his footsteps
Reluca met Finn — who has two children from a previous marriage, Adam, 12, and Erin, six — through mutual friends three years ago. They quickly started trying for a baby of their own, but it took nearly two years for Reluca to get pregnant.
'I'd been crying all the time because it wasn't happening,' she says. 'We must have gone through about 20 different ovulation and pregnancy tests.
'I'd had some gynaecological problems in the past and was sure this would prevent me from having a baby. I was so upset. So I was so thrilled when I discovered I was expecting — but quite paranoid throughout the pregnancy that something would go wrong.'
Despite the anxiety, it was a smooth pregnancy. And Reluca, a former nanny, was aware of the calming effect music can have on babies, so she would often play Mozart to her unborn child, finding it soothed her if she was agitated.
Numerous studies have discovered music can help build neural pathways in the brain (along which information and thoughts pass) when played to babies in the womb and during the first few months of their lives. The phenomenon is known as the Mozart Effect.
Izabella was delivered by Caesarean section on September 24, after being induced at 40 weeks. From the word go, she blossomed. Reluca says: 'Her Apgar score [the method doctors use to assess the health of newborns] was 9/10 in the first minute then 10/10 in the second minute, which means she was perfect.
'She cried for a moment but was then quiet and peaceful and stayed like that even when she was taken to the ward, where all the other babies were crying.'
Reluca believes her daughter's reluctance to use nappies stems from those first few hours.
'I feel so terribly guilty about it,' says Reluca. 'I was so spaced out from the drugs and still paralysed from the epidural that I didn't realise she'd done her first bowel movement in her nappy and was sitting in it for hours.
'The midwives didn't think to check her. I honestly think that it traumatised her because from then on, she's never ever been in her nappy. She's always waited for me to take it off before going.'
The couple brought Izabella home after two days, and she began to develop much more quickly than they expected.
National parenting guidelines say babies develop words between seven months and a year. But, according to her parents, Izabella has been using words (albeit mainly ones of her own devising) since she was just weeks old.
They say that now she is even starting to grasp the difference between her mother's Romanian tongue and English.
I listen hard, determined to work out whether Izabella really is supremely gifted. And I can just about decipher the sounds 'ger', 'ah' and 'da'. To me they sound like any other baby's gurgles, but according to Mum and Dad, they all have specific meanings.
Reluca says: 'She's used “ger” for Daddy, “ah” for Mummy and 'eh” for milk for a long time. And she says “da” for “yes”, which is “yes” in my language.
'She recently started using 'Dada” for Daddy, and calls me “Mama”, but only when she is talking about me, not when I'm out of the room.
'What is incredible is that she used to say 'boo boo” when she needed the potty, but that's changed to “ba ba” recently. We think that's because her grandparents have just visited.
'Romanian for “grandmother” and “grandfather” is “bunica” and “bunicul” — so lots of boo sounds.
'We think she realised that 'boo boo” can't mean “toilet” if it also means “grandparents” so she changed it to “ba ba”.'
Izabella's ambitious parents are keen for her to be bilingual or even trilingual.
'We want her to grow up speaking as many languages as possible,' says Reluca. 'I also speak Spanish and Italian, so I've been playing her songs in those languages and explaining what they mean. And I have a Hungarian friend who has been showing her cartoons in her language.'
As for reading, Reluca says her daughter knows when to turn the pages in her favourite stories.
So what next for Izabella Junior Mastermind Mensa membership One thing is for sure, she won't be going to nursery and wasting time playing with other children.
'No,' says a serious Reluca. 'Everything would be ruined. I've got a friend who sent her boy to nursery and he wasn't stimulated there.
'I once asked him what he'd done that day and he said: “I played with toy animals.” Why would you pay hundreds of pounds to send your child to a place that didn't try to teach him
'Izabella is too clever to waste on nursery. I think we'll just go to a day centre with other mums and babies where we can sing and play music.'
Finn agrees: 'My six-year-old daughter Erin went to nursery and she picked up bad habits from other children'.
He says neither of his children from his first marriage were as communicative or controlled as Izabella at her age.
While the couple don't have definite ideas as to how to develop their daughter's talents (there are no plans for a very early Oxbridge Entrance Exam, for example) there is no limit to their hopes for her.
Reluca says: 'I had a dream the other night that she was conducting an orchestra. Already she is very musical. When we play music to her, she lies back and waves her hands in the air as if she is conducting. And she sticks to the beat. So maybe that was a premonition!'
Finn, spooning orange baby mush into Izabella's eager little mouth, is slightly more circumspect.
'I think we'll take each day as it comes,' he says. 'We would like to encourage her musically so we'll get some instruments soon, see which ones she takes to, and we will go from there.'
Perhaps that's what Mozart's father said, too…