My son never ceases to amaze me. He did again with math during homeschooling today. He was preparing for a test next week and his teacher wanted to assess whether he would be able to do it all by himself. The instructions were to give him the worksheet and let him be. I knew this was going to be a long morning. I gave him the worksheet and his pencil. He wrote his name with ease, without any prodding. I should have known that would be the sign of how our morning would occur. He proceeded to start and before completing the first problem, he asked whether he could have my computer afterwards. I said yes. The worksheet was complex, at least to me. It had both addition and subtraction. His brain loves order and so I figured this may not be an an easy one for him. The first math problem asked that he add 8+7. He stared at the problem and did nothing. I asked that he focused. His mind wandered. He asked if he could have the computer again. I said sure. He asked whether he could do the problems on his own. I said by all means. He asked if I remembered how he used to do all his work by himself at our old house. I said of course and can you do the same now. He started to play with his pencil. He looked at the worksheet after close to 3 minutes and said 15, the answer is 15. I was shocked.

I expected him to count, to write out sticks, anything from all we have been doing to teach him how to do math. He had other ideas on his own. I actually thought it was a fluke too and proceeded to ask that he try the next problem, this time 9+8. His mind had other plans of its own. He asked if he could have the computer after work again. I said of course. He reminded me that he could do the work on his own. I said please go ahead. We did this back and forth until he blurted 17, the answer is 17. I was now in awe. How come? If you know what we go through with teaching him anything then you would understand.

Here is a kid who has a love hate relationship with school work with the hate winning on most days. But on days where love is supreme, nothing can stand in the way of the brain’s many gifts. So I proceeded to walk away. Maybe I’m the distraction. Maybe he can’t seem to focus because I remind him always to focus. I went in search of additional light as the room felt dark to me. I stepped away for about 3-4 minutes and by the time I returned, he was on problem 7. I checked prior math problems. They were all correct. I said nothing and watched in silence as the brain did what it knew best. A short time later, he was done. He didn’t count, he didn’t draw sticks, he just looked at the math problem and supplied the answer.

I really have no words except to keep this here today. This is a reminder to myself and to all mothers with kids on the spectrum to say that we should never underestimate the brain’s many unique ways. Here is a child for whom homeschooling can be though, for whom even math problems can be difficult at times, but today, when he did what worked for him, everything, including completing a math problem that seemed complex was as gentle as a breeze. Keep seeing this form of thriving with kids on the spectrum. They do and can underestimate even your own ideas of their abilities if you let them be. Keep thriving even with math

Yesterday my bright daughter was upset. Division was the cause. We are now in the phase of elementary school where failure with math is inevitable. For her, it has begun and it all thanks to long form division. Everything seems hard she said. She kept trying, and trying and still got everything wrong. She doesn’t like to fail and is doing her best but division is so hard. No one in class understood too until the teacher showed what they were all doing wrong. What made her so upset was how easy it actually was when her teacher explained it all. But why didn’t she see it? Why did she fail when she tried it herself? I listened intently as I understood well what was happening here.

I ask why is failing so bad? Her response-I don’t like to fail. I asked again, why don’t you like to fail? Because I keep trying my best but still I fail. So I asked again, why did you keep trying and still failed? Because it was making me so upset, she said. I still asked, why does failure make you so upset? Because there is nothing to learn from failure? Why can’t you learn from failure? I said? Because, wait, you can learn from failure? Breakthrough, I smiled, I replied of course you can. So what are we going to do now that we can learn from failure? I will try not to be too upset? Why will you not be upset even if you fail? Because I know I tried my best. Why will you keep trying even if you fail? Because I can learn from failing. Why is failing now good? Because it teaches me something about myself. I was curious and asked what did it teach? She said, never to give up even if you fail. Mission accomplished.

Teaching how to fail as well as learning from failure is a tall ask for little children. But my grantwriting hat helped me here. I fail all the time I told her. She said really. I said yes. Sometimes the papers I write are rejected and even all the hardwork I put on my grants too. But still I learn from every failure. It’s a teacher too. And like you, it teaches me never to give up. Division has helped me understand the significance of teaching children why failure it’s important. It’s a major keep I intend to continue to work on with my daughter. One that I hope you keep too.

About a month into the pandemic last year, I wrote an essay on why we all needed to thrive. It was based on the picture below about my daughter. Looking back it was my first time writing about what mattered to me during the pandemic. Not wanting to feel stressed out or overwhelmed with homeschooling, I escaped into the world of thriving thanks to my daughters IXL certificate for Math achievement. I remember sharing the essay with a few friends and then tucking it away with the many random things I often write about. In looking through old pictures recently, I came across the certificate again and remembered the paper it sparked. I am keeping it here, below the picture because the message then, which was critical, is just as significant for today. Keep thriving.

We should all choose to thrive during and after the coronavirus outbreak.

Just today, my 7-year-old daughter received a certificate from IXL, a website for learning, indicating that she had answered 6,500 math questions. I shared the certificate with family and friends without verifying when she completed the questions, over how long, or what types of math questions she completed. I was simply elated that she was passionate about math to the point of answering 6,500 questions. On further investigation, it turns out, that my daughter did 2 things really well, to earn her certificate. First, she was quite simply passionate about math and went above and beyond her regular math assignments, and second, she pursued opportunities, that allowed her to continually develop her enthusiasm for math. Her passion for math, and seeing improvements in her abilities over time, worked in concert. The end result was rewarding, not just because she successful completed 6,500 questions and received the certificate, but that she continues to do more math questions, beyond her grade level.

However, for the past 1-2 months, children like my daughter, families, communities, and countries are facing a new reality. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event in modern history, resulting in people responding rapidly to turbulent changes caused by the outbreak. Lockdown orders, social distancing and facemask rules imposed by governments to flatten the curve, have moved people further away from their daily routines of livelihood. As the global pandemic unfolds, 1.5 billion children and youth like my daughter are out of school, resulting in a crisis that can further deteriorate their learning. The quest for normalcy has spawned a remarkable number of strategies focused on understanding how to co-exisit with the virus. While a myriad of factors can affect how people respond to the outbreak in the short run, the key to not only overcoming, but prospering in the medium and long-run, is to choose to thrive. But what do we mean when we say “thrive”?

It is a critical question because our response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic will be shaped by the possibilities for or the demise of our society vis-à-vis our decision-making with thriving. The question of the society we all collectively want following this pandemic is at the heart of all governments and informs their policies, but raises complex questions on how to prioritize and protect our physical health and overall well-being. A focus on what, how, and why we should all choose to thrive is vital. To choose to thrive, I believe, is about growing, developing, and feeling passionate about living. To choose to thrive is different from surviving, and has nothing to do with merely getting by or remaining stagnant. To choose to thrive, allows, no demands, that we create conditions whereby we feel alive as we participate in opportunities for fulfilment whether while lockdown at home or through our work, play, music, socializing, learning, creating, pursing hobbies, or making meaningful contributions to our community and society. The on-going COVID-19 pandemic promises to disrupt our daily lives. Yet we should all choose to thrive in spite of the pandemic, not because of it.

Author and researcher Gretchen Spreitzer described two components of thriving that many may find useful as they make sense of the outbreak: 1) vitality or the sense of being alive or living life fully despite the virus; and 2) learning, or growth that comes from gaining new sense of self, knowledge or skills. Vitality during covid-19 includes positive experience of feeling energized, enthusiastic, and alive. People with a sense of vitality are much less likely to feel worried, depressed, or upset and more likely to be mentally healthy. In addition to vitality, learning refers to the sense that one is achieving desired personal, family, or professional goals as continually develop or actively seek out opportunities that foster growth. A sense of learning contributes to positive physical health and mental-wellbeing. Spreitzer suggest that the joint experience of both vitality and learning are necessary for thriving and in turn, optimal health and well-being.

I foresee that the decision to choose to thrive will come in stages. Some will readily embrace this essay and find ways to live and learn during this pandemic. Others will feel helpless given the acute lack of growth, immobility and stagnation caused by the virus. Whether or not we choose to thrive, it is worth trying. With my daughter and as with many little girls, I know that something dramatic happens in early adolescence, where their love for math and all things science-related begins to wane. Maintaining her passion and findings ways for her to develop her math skills now and into the future is essential. The COVID-19 pandemic enjoins us all to think deeply about the society we want now and post the outbreak. It is essential. Essential, because if we do not choose to thrive, the virus will win, and the manner of its victory is as diverse as it is vicious, across all nations, whether with this first wave or the projected second waves to comes.

We are not helpless. This is the time to engage in dialogues, to listen, imagine, and envision what it would be like to choose to thrive in spite of the pandemic.