Self-directed Learning… Special Interest Style!

We live close to Vancouver in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia! It is lush and green and buzzing with life! Right now, however, we are inundated with mosquitoes after a particularly treacherous spring thaw and lots of flooding of the local area. All that water – combined with years-dormant mosquito eggs… and yikes!

It is relevant to note here that I hate the feeling of bug spray – it is a sensory overwhelm – and H feels the same way. So we’ve been stuck inside and avoiding the yard for a couple of days. I’ve been writing up a storm – and H… well, he’s doing his thing…

Ahh… Self-directed learning!

Last week it was piranhas. H knows an impressive amount of information about piranhas. Sometimes I ask him how he knows so much about something. His answer is invariably, “I researched it!”


Today H declared, “I’m going to learn more about the Gorgons!” After a few minutes at his computer, “Hmmmm… The Greek word ‘Gorgos‘ means dreadful.”

H: “Medusa’s sisters were immortal – but she was not. She was slain by the demigod Perseus!” Budding researcher! Yay!!

45 minutes later…

“Medusa wasn’t always a monster – she was once a human woman. She was raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple – but it is not like she let him do it. He is the one who should have been punished… but he is a great mighty God… so you know!”

I talked to H about this – the first time I have ever heard him refer to the word ‘rape’. I wasn’t sure how to react – and was a bit caught off guard so I asked a couple of questions and we discussed the concept and what mutual consent meant. He was well ahead of me though and confirmed that he understands that this is sexual interaction ‘against the will.

And he goes on to tell me…

“Mom.. I have heard the phrase: With great power comes great responsibility – but with that head – it’s CHAOS!”

Now he is learning more about Perseus – Son of Zeus and slayer of Medusa.

This shifts to the examination the constellation Perseus and its link to the eye that he stole from the three witches.

Then:“He [Perseus] has the sword of Zeus and the shield of Athena and the helmet of Hades.”

“The shield that Perseus was given has a reflective surface! That is important!

H has delved into a variety of sites to learn about his topic of choice this afternoon: one of his favourites for the day was

“Cool – the Parthenon is real – this is not a set! It is in Athens… in Greece!”  I love his excitement about learning new things!

His next move was a lateral one: the series “Storyteller” by Jim Henson. There are two different parts to this series – one is European Folk Tales(1988) – the other is Greek Mythology(1990). We have watched them all – and they are delightful – but I suggest you preview them as some are rather dark and I think perhaps would be frightening to little minds. Not so for my boy H however.

So apparently on the plan for today’s viewing was a re-watching of Perseus and the Gorgon – so he could view another version of the tale of Medusa and compare the stories. He was definitely inventorying the similarities and differences.

Finally, he slipped into viewing a second episode of Storyteller – this time about Daedalus and Icarus.

I don’t often get a chance to sit back and observe my son’s process and methods for learning more about his interests with such attention to detail. I am impressed with his ability to navigate and find interesting sources, to compare and contrast views and perspectives, and synthesize information. It impresses me that he can entertain himself on the computer so purposefully. That is amazing to see.

I guess I am almost grudgingly grateful to the mosquitoes…



but no – not quite!


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
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13 Responses to Self-directed Learning… Special Interest Style!

  1. coyotetooth says:

    Be afraid . . . I recall conversations like that!


  2. spectrumscribe says:

    Singing my song Leah.

    We recently watched Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans at home.
    – A carpet picnic

    I was answering the questions my daughter was fielding but elaborating in far too much detail, imagine an Aspie doing that, while following the movie, immersed in the glorious mythology, labeling the metaphors AND googling stuff I wasn’t sure about, like ‘where did Apollo fit it etc etc.

    Percy Jackson is another family favorite – not least because 2 of us have ADHD.

    Has H seen it?

    Thanks for sharing another joyous post with us


  3. Pingback: Self-directed Learning… Special Interest Style! | Improve Yourself |

  4. Leah Kelley says:

    Ooohhh…. I like the idea of a carpet picnic! Also, I can relate to Craig and H adding details to the plot and director’s back-story when I, the sole NT (well almost) am trying to watch the movie.. such a common event at our house! And yes… we have watched all of the films you listed as well 🙂


  5. Pingback: Self-directed Learning… Special Interest Style! | The Challange of learning |

  6. Pingback: Self-directed Learning… Special Interest Style! « kimmblog

  7. Angel says:

    I so enjoyed reading this! H is awesome! My brain goes like that too and so does all my kids. At any given moment there are all types of “fixations” and connections being made around here. 🙂 When you start getting into Greek myths I get WAY too excited. Lol! I may be off on a mythology tangent later today. Awwww, good times.

    My mom wishes there would have been computers when I was a young child, instead she bought me encyclopedias and told me to go look up my millions of questions. Thanks to her I leaned to be quite the self-directed learner!


  8. Shan says:

    This reminds me so much of my own son’s learning process.


  9. Yeah, watch out for those Greek myths. Don’t forget the Titan Cronos, who ate all his kids except Zeus, then Zeus made him throw them all up. But it doesn’t stop there! Then the angry kids chopped off their father’s penis and chucked it in the ocean, where Aphrodite was born from the surging waves. Yep, that’s right. That picture of her emerging from the waves in a seashell? The part they don’t show is the bobbing, severed Titan penis.

    I love that you have a budding researcher. Congratulations!


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Wow!! I must have blocked that one out! I can hardly wait until he discovers that juicy little tale… Yikes!!

      Seriously though, I do recall when he was very young we got him this fabulous book about Odysseus (I think it may have been a DK book). He was simply fascinated and it was quite gory and graphic… that lovely combination of frightening and mysterious and enticing. He was mesmerized…

      Greek mythology is pretty amazing stuff!

      Thank you for your comment 🙂


  10. Pingback: Self-directed Learning… Special Interest Style! | e way to personal mastery |

  11. Pingback: The pathologization of interest and curiosity | Thirty Days of Autism

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