~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ unrivaled unraveling

~1-23-19 to 2-23-19~


winter wonderings

Quinn took three classes at Winter Wonderings at OSU this year, and finally got to enroll in one of the Minecraft modules. He also took manual chess programming and Oregon geology. Rich drove him to his class one Saturday while I worked farmer’s market; so grateful for his stepdad presence in Quinn’s life.

he was excited about an idea he had for his next minecraft tag class. he wanted to plant all the different species of trees, and one thing he has figured out how to do is how to plant a giant spruce tree (you plant a 2×2 area of spruce but then let one of the saplings grow, apparently) and then when it’s fully grown, he planned to mine into the trunk, creating a spiral staircase that ends up in a watchtower up at the top.

social and cultural

nestled among the progeny of camp boss

the second middle school dance took place, with a theme of midnight in Paris. He came out afterwards with his scarf and said he was the only one who attempted to dress French. “it was a semi-formal!” i had no idea. obviously a lot of other kids didn’t know what semi formal meant; he was not the only one in jeans. he had a great time, and danced all night again. otherwise, that day was a Friday and so, the usual 3 dinners and a bath.

saturday afternoon quinn binge watched naruto and rich and i napped. then we ate leftovers and went to the little mermaid. quinn had seen it with school, but he wanted to go again. he tried to prepare me for different parts “this part gets a little sad, but it gets better again later on.” he wasn’t the only one; the 3 year old girl seated in front of us breathily whispered to her mom, “it’s ariel!!!!”

quinn’s female friend who will henceforth go by the pseudonym goldberry has become friends with the whole fellowship and has been eating at the same lunch table… goldberry was in the little mermaid cast, and quinn said hi to her afterwards in the green room. this month he asked, “do you think goldberry and i will ever actually go on a date?” she was back in his group in science, and he seemed really happy about that. they were working on green home design. then later in the month, she confided in him that she is gay. he dealt with some disappointment about it not looking like they’d ever date, but also felt honored she had been comfortable enough in their friendship to know she could say this to him and trusted that he would be a good friend to her. he also seemed to appreciate that i had experienced the same thing a time or two in my life.

other social engagements this month included a sleepover at aragorn’s where there was much playing of the game go as well as video games. Rich, quinn and i attended the valentine’s dance performance. we also drove quinn and aragorn to and from their penultimate winter wonderings, and rich and i had a nice lunch and went shopping for fun chopsticks while we waited for them. as we headed home for a birthday sleepover, we got to listen to them singing every word of take on me (every bit as popular in grade 6 this year as it was in 1985 just after a-ha released it – in fact the marching band has chosen it for their song list to memorize for this year). We of the front seats of the car strained not to laugh out loud when aragorn asked, “are you guys familiar with the band nirvana?”

Anime/ramen birthday party! the characters of naruto eat their favorite food, ramen, with chopsticks, so the boys all dined accordingly. They ate lemon cupcakes in the conventional manner. We celebrated with aragorn, legolas, and legolas’s little brother. A good time was had by all, and the boy turned 12.

fine dining

We met rich’s mom for her birthday at the noodle cafe. quinn ordered shrimp tempura and udon noodle soup. he ate the tail on the first one and then said, “oh, you’re not supposed to?”

“it’s fine to eat it but was it chewy?”

he said, “yeah, it was hard to get through it.” the noodles there are amazing and big and homemade. for the first few he’d pull an individual noodle out of the broth onto his plate and cut it into bite size lengths with his fork and stab each one to convey it to his mouth. then he switched to getting one end into his mouth and sucking it in. we were laughing about how he doesn’t get out much. he kept getting distracted by the tv on the opposite end of the room showing cool aquarium fish. and then he would talk about his advanced theory on some topic… then he’d know absolutely nothing about a topic (government shutdown) so we’d explain it to him. it was fun. he asked if we could come back to the noodle cafe again sometime because he really liked the shrimp and noodles. and the crab and cheese wonton appetizers.


quinn is being taken to karate by his dad on occasion, which is a big win in the department of self advocating.

One night i had no idea he would be there, so i walked in for my class to see him working with sifu, which was a pleasant surprise. i got a nice big hug and a short check in and observed that he was still wearing the same yoda socks he left in days earlier. grubby, but happy.

He had his half-blue belt test this month. he did well and got to show off his analytical side as usual, and he is doing better all the time with sparring. he still gets put on the floor in a headlock, but we talked more about the one kid who does that to him every time, about how he really doesn’t do karate when he spars, he just tackles. and how that shows a lack of skill on one level. i was able to point out some specific moves quinn made that were especially showing his strengths like his speed (he was getting punched a bit by one kid, but then got off a really fast punch to the kid’s face (and it was well within the expected range of control, he wasn’t mean or malicious but he was getting a good shot in, and both he and the other boy knew it.) and when headlock/tackle boy got quinn wrapped up, well, quinn wrapped him up right back… neither one of them were getting off the floor… it felt less one-sided than usual.

he did very well on his techniques and forms as he usually does. if someone forgot a technique, sifu would often have quinn demonstrate. he also reacted really well on action/reaction testing.

Over the longer term, it is easy to see so much growth in coordination- things like keeping his hands in fight position when he kicks… he used to always drop his hands and now almost always maintains hand position.

The ceremonial kick was still a struggle. when he talked about it later it sounded to me like he actually doesn’t believe he is flinching or feel himself flinching. i think the way he experiences it may actually be that he is doing his absolute best not to flinch, and he can’t control it. In other areas he is still figuring out how to be consistently aware of his body and i have a hunch it’s in the same category. i don’t think quinn is trying to be defiant or noncompliant, or that he is *not trying not to flinch… i think he truly believes he *is not flinching.

the awesome thing was once he told me his take on that, he moved on and wasn’t obsessed or stuck on it or disappointed with the one thing that didn’t go well, he was happy with other things, and was able to feel good.

we also had a great discussion of goals he has for his karate. he could articulate exactly what a setback it is to not be going to class during his dad’s weeks. he told me he had been discussing it with his dad, and had asked him to take him to at least one class each week so he can go a faster pace and still try for his goal.

after the belt test he grabbed two more pieces of pizza and his graph paper, pencil, and ruler/protractor/circle stencil/triangle tools, and sat at the table drawing an elaborate graph papery something. he would not tell me what it was, just that he *needed to do that at 9:30pm after a 2 hour belt test, before he could let his brain go to bed. intense!!!

we both attended a weekend karate seminar with sifu z at our dojo, which is a pretty big deal for our little town. sifu z is a 9th degree black belt from LA and we’ve been at his seminars before, but only in bigger dojos. we were worn out by the end, and learned a ton. quinn did a great job with his partners, who are both kids he can often goof off with, but they stayed on task. he was very animated on the way home, saying, “at one point we had three black belts helping us! sifu todd, sifu z, and mr martinez!” and then listed all the black belts in order of what degree (how many stripes) and then was rattling off facts about how the different lineages of kenpo pracitioners relate to one another. knowledge he has picked up by absorbing and listening to everything.

sifu todd had told sifu z’s 6 year old that if he behaved throughout the whole seminar, he would get out a balloon for him and he could take 6 tries at popping it on the ceiling fan (our sifu knows how to motivate each individual child). at the end of the seminar, he did as he had promised, and inflated a giant red balloon and the boy started launching it at the ceiling fan trying to pop it. i watched from behind quinn, who was sitting on the bench watching very intently, with his fingers stuck in his ears. Quinn has come so far with tolerating sensory input, but it’s moments like that when i realize sensory intensity is still such a big deal for him. things like popping balloons, he can now deal with emotionally (he isn’t grieving the death of the balloon anymore if it’s not his balloon) however he still wants nothing to do with hearing it pop.

executive function literature

i finally managed to get my hands on the book misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses in gifted children and adults through interlibrary loan. it’s something i should have read 6 or 7 or 11 years ago. i think i remember my therapist telling me about the book, back in the 6-7 years ago time frame, and it would have helped me sort through my is-this-asperger’s quagmire. had i been gainfully employed at the time, i may have just bought it, but that was part of the quagmire and all.

i also enjoyed another book called differently wired, written by the host of the tilt parenting podcast. both the book and the podcast i would recommend to anyone else with a person in their lives who doesn’t quite fit into the neurotypical mold.

finally, an audio book on processing speed called bright kids who can’t keep up has been on while i’ve been analyzing lab data. i have only been passively absorbing some of the soundbytes from it, but some of the things standing out are examples like your kid not remembering a party invite until it’s the last minute; or staying on the edge of the playground deciding what to do and meanwhile all their time goes by… there are lots of glimpses of how processing speed could easily be part of quinn’s package.

Quinn’s math class started geometry (he was thrilled). on his homework, he was calculating area of a parallelogram and said, “whenever i see a parallelogram, i think sandcrawler, from the jawas.” (is it okay if i’m a little disappointed he doesn’t need to slay monsters anymore to get his homework done? it was so brief. he is impressing me with some observable work ethic improvements.)

on to trapezoids, one problem gave him the area of 160, and the height of 8 and base2 of 30, but he had to solve for base1. this stumped him briefly, as he had so far been calculating area from b1 b2 and h. i said, “they give you…” and restated the values listed, “so you basically solve for x.” i continued rambling about how i thought he should write down the steps and he interrupted me “10.” then it took until the next night’s homework session to get the steps written down, though he had solved it in 2.5 seconds. there was no fretting or fighting though, just time wasting and lollygagging now. less stressful these days. this same month was when he had to determine the surface area of the pyramid of Giza but got sidetracked on the fact that the base length was a fibonacci number.

he had an A in math at the halfway point through sixth grade! most of his grades were good, though he would have had more A marks if notebook grades were not factored in (his math teacher being an exception – she overlooked his incomplete notes given he had clearly absorbed the material). he will need to work on note-taking skills more. executive functions include things like note-taking, and while some kids might just start writing down what teachers say or write on the board and develop the skill without direct step-by-step instructions, i think quinn is a guy who needs more steps spelled out such as, “if i am writing it on the board, you should write it in your notebook,” or “make sure you write down xyz notes during class today,” and most likely beginning the sentence with the name “quinn” would help it take effect. other contributing factors for him might be that it takes him extra time to write anything down, and i think he has trouble dividing his attention between listening and writing; he is absorbing all the information without taking notes, and acing his exams, so there’s that. he will continue to find his balance of effort required to learn the material vs effort required to achieve a certain grade; he has no problem learning material without taking notes, but notes are often part of the grade.

one social studies assignment had been due on friday but he “thought”‘ he could get more time to do it monday. i told him i’d rather he got it done at home because if it had been due it made more sense to get it handed in asap, and also i am encouraging him to get a grip on his notebook, so focusing his class time on that seemed wise.

they did mayan and aztec civilizations and had moved on to inca, and i remember loving the quipu knot tying code system of the incas. their assignment was to make up their own code system analogous to quipu, so basically if you have 1 knot it means A, double knot means B, etc. he did the project completely backwards. he tied knots in some yarn, “i just did what felt right,” and then he was in a position of having to reverse-engineer a code that would result in his randomly tied knots to make them stand for something meaningful.

so it was a very good thing we tackled it at home because he was stuck (how could he not be) and i encouraged him to start from where he was, and write down how many knots he had of each kind (single, double, triple knots) and then we’d decide how to reverse it. we did come up with a system, and between choosing letters to represent what he had already tied, plus adding in a few more knots or untying a few that were extra, we made it work. he is such a funny guy. this is where the executive function comes into play (or fails to) and in one of the books i am reading they use executive function interchangeably with “judgment” and say how in gifted kids judgment can lag behind intellect. he is the poster child.

somewhere buried in a homework episode about tying and untying knots to reverse engineer a solution is a metaphor for parenting.

in between busy weekend and busy school days, he has read 3 books (warriors and 2 books from the diary of an 8-bit warrior minecraft series; none of them terribly difficult but he is just as insatiably absorbing literature as ever….)

another stuck moment occurred on a math homework question: give an example of a real world application where one would need the exact area of a circle, as in, the area expressed in terms of π instead of a decimal approximation… photos were placed beside the question, one of which depicted a round skylight window. i am not sure how or why quinn would or should know why it would be necessary to calculate exact area of a circle, and i personally do not know how an area of, say, 4π  square feet is ever useful in practical application, so i was little help, but i encouraged him not to overthink it, and notice the image clue of the window. i asked what it made him think of… “a hobbit house!” and he wrote down, “to build a round door in a hobbit house,” and moved on. yay for avoiding stuckness!

his whole math class failed a test, so she gave them all a retake, and quinn worked on it thursday with everyone else, got 1-6 (out of 28 questions) done, but got stuck on 7. on friday he finally figured out 7, but got stuck on 8. i found this all out monday, with prodding and interrogation. “well, let’s go over the types of questions so you can get it finished tomorrow.” it turned out that he could reproduce the problems 7 and 8 verbatim (drawings and everything) and we sat there until he could tell me how to do them (i said i would help but not tell him how, since they were test questions) and he finally got it. he was just so convinced he “couldn’t” so therefore he could not. he just lost confidence again.

we discussed a couple things i think we can also file under executive function skills.

  1. if you struggled through problem 7 and went home that night knowing you would have the next day in class to finish the test, but went back to it with no extra preparation, you probably struggled just as much! next time, go home and figure it out or ask someone to help you figure it out. you have to believe you have the skills and were taught the things you need, and that you can find them out with a little bit of effort.
  2. if you don’t know how to do #7, skip it and come back to it after you finish the rest of the questions. when i was helping him prepare for the next attempt at finishing it, i asked him what other types of questions were left and he hadn’t even turned the page, so he didn’t know. now he hopefully will be less stuck on doing the questions in order every time. i asked him if he was open to going out of order if he was truly stuck, and he was honest and said he did prefer to go in order, but that now that we’ve talked about it he feels like he sees the benefit of skipping and coming back in this type of scenario, to save time.

one car conversation launched from quinn telling me he is going to drop out of accelerated math. his teacher told him they would either have to take the state test at the end of the year, or take her own test of the material, which was not going to be any easier than the state test. he had planned on opting out of state testing forever, but he also did not fancy the idea of taking her test, at least not the way she so threateningly advertised it. our conversation centered on talking him down from dropping out (he may have learned to look for extreme “solutions” somewhere); providing reasoning such as that the other math level teachers may have the same requirement so leaving his current level may not solve the issue; discussing how his current teacher’s communication style can sometimes feed his anxiety (and when i reworded what she said, re-framing the end of year testing as a choice he could make, simply providing reasoning that she needs to see how far they have come this year and what level they should be pursuing next school year, rather than making it sound so daunting and threatening, he admitted that didn’t sound as bad); and speaking of how the state smarter balanced testing works and why it is stressful for him, and how we can work on coping strategies if he does decide to try that one again this year. my understanding is that the sb test keeps presenting the student with more and more incrementally difficult problems until it eventually stumps them, and thereby determines the extent of their knowledge by measuring an “end point” of sorts. “but i’m a perfectionist and it causes me an unrivaled amount of stress!” said quinn. i love that he realizes why this bugs him, but also that he can carry on a conversation with me about why it doesn’t need to be a source of anxiety for him, since we agree the scores mean very little to us (we measure learning differently), that if he goes in knowing there will be some too-tough problems, he can head off that stress.

on being differently wired

during another car chat after school one day, quinn and i had another installment in our ongoing conversation about his learning style and his particular challenges and strengths in school, which i believe is helping him develop the language to talk about it all. he was telling me something about naruto and one character was said to have “an IQ of over 200!” and after he was done telling me about it, i asked him if he ever wondered about his own IQ.

“no…. yeah, actually.”

i asked him more about it and he asked, “can you give me an IQ test?”

“no, it’s a pretty involved test, so it just takes some planning… and i’m not sure if you can have one at school or not, but maybe.”


i was trying to convey with my tone, “if we were interested and wanted to pursue it, we could,” not stating that we were going to pursue it yet… just seeing where he stood and how he felt about it all.  delving more into what he believed would be beneficial about knowing his IQ, he told me he wasn’t sure other than knowing he would like to know.

“well, i think those tests usually say other things about how you learn and what your intellectual abilities/strengths/challenges are. people have all different combinations, say even if you have high IQ, you could have lower processing speed, or someone could have high math ability but low verbal ability, or different things like that.” i was intending to give non-specific examples but he picked right up on processing speed.

“yeah, like how my processing speed makes me need more time to think of what to write, or to take a test, but i can easily do the test, and understand the material,” and he listed some of his own quirks. and it was cool to hear him talk about his particular spice blend.

then he said, “i feel different, and i know i am, but sometimes i would like to know for sure.”

more talk about what it means to be gifted and how it’s not that someone is better or worse, it’s a difference, and it can come with things that are beneficial and others that are challenges, but it’s real and true about him. we talked about how sometimes it is nice to know and be able to name things and for example say to a teacher, “i get stuck. i really have a hard time getting unstuck sometimes. i’m stuck right now and can’t figure out how to start this assignment….” and using his teachers as a resource, once you know this Thing is something about you that maybe not everyone experiences, and being able to see yourself starting to have that experience again and call it what it is and go to your resources (teacher, peers, book, google classroom, etc.) to help you with unsticking, not just stay stuck. or, “hey i sometimes struggle with processing speed, so i need more time to finish my test,” might be something worth knowing about your learning and be able to articulate it to someone who when they hear those words will understand what they mean. i explained that sometimes tests can be beneficial if they help identify areas that can be solved or improved for the way a person learns, if that person isn’t able to just go and ask for what he needs and has to prove it to teachers that they must give more test time (or whatever the accommodation may be), but that tests are not always needed if one can self-advocate.

on the topic of identification of gifted students it turns out quinn has quite an opinion about it and feels that some kids get missed who should be in tag, and that a lot of the kids who are being missed are also being labeled other things. he said, “i’m not sure i want to have slow processing speed identified by a test or if it is, to have that told to my teachers, because a lot of people get labeled things like that and end up getting stuck in special ed.” i did not want to jump to a conclusion about what he meant by that so i asked if he knows any kids in special ed, and he said not really but he knows of one kid, (we’ll call her), “silvana. she is in special ed but the times that i have met her or been around her, i could just tell she was like me. i think when you’re like me, you can tell when other people are the same way, and i felt that with her. she may not be able to speak the same or show off what is inside her the same way i can or others can, but i just *know she is every bit as smart as others, probably a lot smarter.”

i melted into a contented mama puddle, hearing him say that. silvana (not her real name) is a dear sweet child who indeed is in special ed, does have language and learning disabilities. however, i see what he sees in her; she has been on numerous field trips with quinn’s class over the years, when i have been along as chaperone. i just love that while so many would assume that she is unable to understand, he sees right through that.

he seems to realize that gifted isn’t necessarily an easy path, it comes with its own obstacles, and not everyone who is gifted is recognized as such, and recognizing struggles sometimes means you get treated like you’re anything but gifted… and just discussing how gifted is its own special need, too. he is also seeming to appreciate having a vocabulary for his path and a way to articulate what it is like to be him in a learning environment.

i told him that for some kids, special ed is exactly what they need, in order to learn in a way that suits them. i agreed it would not be the best setting for him to learn in, and what his special needs require is maybe more time on tests, help with stuckness, etc., but also acceleration of material so he does keep moving forward with his learning. i wanted to give him perspective on how being placed in special ed isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it is the right thing.

it was a really nice chat, and he seemed to feel validated by it all, and latching onto some of the language and ways of articulating needs and solutions to challenges.

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