I used to consider boredom the remote affliction of others. Bored people lacked imagination and an appreciation for beauty. In my childhood, I spent hours tilting and gazing at kaleidoscopes. Plaster patterns on the wall continuously evolved and reshaped into faces, beasts, and foreign geographies. How could anyone be bored when all they had to do was look?
My assumptions about boredom were misguided. I struggled mightily with boredom, especially in the forced confines of school. I fidgeted and interrupted upon occasion. Usually, though, I traveled in my brain.
I remember Rafaela and her ponytail holders. Decorated with translucent red balls, the holders fastened tight and close to her scalp. I mentally traced the smooth channels of her dark braided hair up to the holders and back down again. Sometimes the light would hit the holders just right and they would glow. Eventually the teacher picked up on my fascination and seated me elsewhere.
High school algebra classes numbed my brain. I digested material instantaneously, making lectures redundant and banal. One day I brought a Phillip’s screwdriver to school and disassembled my desk top. The mischief makers behind me regarded me with new respect. I spent the rest of class balancing the desk with my knees while I charted the progress of a rolling pencil.
Not soon afterward, I spoke to my math teacher, Mr. Tigers. “I know all of this, “ I told him, “From chapter one to seven. Test me.” He didn’t bother and let me go to the library instead, provided I take scheduled exams. I wound up using my free period to tutor the special ed class he taught.
I relished making learning fun for other people. Math class bored me because it was too easy. The kids I tutored found math boring for the opposite reason–it was too hard. This irony escaped me at the time.
In my senior year, I took calculus with Mr. Guam, the wrestling coach. The course took place in a big booming room that felt more like an oversized bathroom stall than a classroom. The ceiling was twenty feet up and small windows seemed to float in the distance.
Uneasy, for subtle, incomprehensible reasons, I drifted away during lectures. I deemed his instruction style bewildering and disorganized. Furthermore, his homework and assignments did not correspond to the book, impeding my understanding further. He held homework sessions after wrestling practice, too late for my anxious self to attend. Coincidentally, his exam questions derived from these very sessions (the wrestlers did quite well). I hated his strategy and handed in a nasty note in place of my second exam. He gave me a D-.
A year later, I re-took calculus at a university. My instructor was an unintelligible foreign professor, yet I aced all my exams. He followed the textbook. The next year I became a popular calculus math tutor.
So what happened to me? Why fail in one class and not another? I’ve asked myself these questions hundreds of times, because my academic career was so mixed.
I succeeded when I worked alone and followed the book. I failed in a distracting and social environment. It is the story of my life.
So how does one with such a brain raise a chatty, precocious boy with autism?
I doodle (above), bounce on a yoga ball, and get excited about teaching my son math.