What’s a Polynomial?

After Dylan started buckling down on his homework, and started diligently trying to bring up his grades, he seemed to be having a little trouble with one subject.


This is Dylan’s second year taking Algebra I. He took it in 7th grade and struggled mightily. His teacher kept telling him (the kid with the ADHD) that if he would just “pay attention” he would know the answer to his question.

She didn’t answer his questions, such was her frustration. If Shane gets this teacher, I will petition madly to move him.

So we got a tutor, and paid him for months to get Dylan through Algebra I. He passed the requisite exam for graduation, but only got a C in the class – and was therefore required to take it again in 8th grade.

And now, after another full year of algebra, under practically private tuteledge with only 8 kids in his class, and mostly B’s and C’s on tests, Dylan said he was having trouble with Chapter 9.

“What are you studying?” I asked.

“We’re factoring the square roots of polynomials or something,” he said.

“So specifically, what are you having trouble with?” I asked – as if I remembered any algebra from high school.

“Well first,” he said, “what’s a polynomial?”


It occurs to me – again – that Dylan’s issues with school have nothing to do with his inability to control his behavior – and everything to do with his personal frustration with school and learning. ADHD makes every class into a major challenge – unless it’s hands-on learning (which none of them are).

So we’ve hired a new tutor for Dylan. He’s an engineer by trade, a relatively recent college grad who has only ever tutored his 15-year-old brother in math. The new tutor’s email just sounded like he’d be a good fit for Dylan – the way he talked about working with his brother.

Probably not completely coincidentally, we later learned that the tutor’s brother has Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls right there in the autism spectrum next to ADHD in the brain. Three sides of the same coin.

So Dylan is learning. And he’s trying to learn fast and well – and bring up those grades.

After already spending hours on algebra, he was in his bedroom working on problems after 9:00 at night. I went in and kissed him on the head, and started to walk out.

I stopped, and turned around.

“You’re doing this because you’re really a good kid, right?” I asked. “And not just because you want to go to King’s Dominion?”

“No,” he said, although he clearly meant “yes” – and then explained. “I mean, it’s a good incentive, but that’s not why I’m doing all this.”

I knew that.

But still, it was nice to hear Dylan say it.

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