The U.K. General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academically rigorous, internationally recognized qualification awarded in a specified subject. Scoring an A grade in GCSE mathematics is a substantial achievement for anyone, but young Joseph Fry’s story is particularly special because Joseph, 9, has been epileptic for two years and must take daily medication to control his seizures.
Even more remarkably, he began studying the GCSE syllabus in January this year and wrote the exam just six months later.
Joseph, who hails from Salisbury, England, where he lives with his parents, James and Tracey, and a brother and sister, attends the Pitton Primary School and is already planning to start work on an A-level, the U.K.’s top secondary school qualification.
“It has been hard work, but I’m glad it has paid off. It’s really been worth it,” Joseph told the Salisbury Journal’s Adam Pilon.
“We’re not high-pressure parents,” James Fry told Pilon. The Frys said they’re mystified by their son’s prowess in mathematics, which neither parent has a particular affinity for. James Fry runs the Salisbury IT firm BlueFrontier, and Tracey is an accountant.
“We always knew he was incredibly gifted because he taught himself to read when he was 3,” James Fry said.
Joseph was recently tested and found to have an IQ baseline of 158. The Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale of Intelligence (also called the Stanford-Binet) classifies IQ scores above 140 as “genius or almost genius.”
Joseph experienced his first grand mal epileptic seizure (tonic-clonic) at age 7, went on to have more frequent seizures, and was diagnosed with Benign Rolandic Epilepsy (BRE).
According to the UK Epilepsy Society, BRE syndrome affects 15 percent of children with epilepsy, with onset at any time between the ages of 3 and 10. BRE children may experience very few seizures and most will become seizure-free by the age of 16. They may have simple focal seizures (sometimes called simple partial seizures) at night, with symptoms that may include a tingling sensation in the mouth, gurgling or grunting noises, and dribbling.
Speech may also be temporarily affected, and symptoms may develop into a generalized tonic clonic (convulsive) seizure. Antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) may not be necessary, but can be helpful to control seizures.
“Sodium valproate [an anti-convulsive drug] has been great at controlling Joseph’s seizures,” James Fry said in an Epilepsy Society press release. “He hasn’t had a seizure since May, and before that, since September, so we are hoping that he will grow out of his epilepsy. Nevertheless, the drugs have given Joseph concentration problems and have disturbed his sleep.”
“The last two years have been really tough for him, especially when the medication he is on comes with a wide range of side effects,” Fry told the Salisbury Journal. “But he manages all of it without complaint.”
It is common for people with epilepsy taking sodium valproate, which is sold under the trade names Epilim, Episenta, and Epival, to gain weight as a side effect, but Joseph’s parents report that in his case it has had the opposite effect.
“Joseph hasn’t put on weight for 18 months,” his father said. “It’s affected his appetite, and now, because he’s quite intelligent and has read up about his drugs, he’s quite worried about not putting on enough weight. It’s something no young lad should have to worry about, really.”
But coping with those complications of life doesn’t appear to have slowed Joseph down academically.