Eleven-year-old Ben Lou’s Brilliance Overshadows his Rare Disease

December 5, 2014

At age 11, Ben Lou is among youngest members of the U.S. math team that will compete for an international title in Beijing later this month.

He’s way ahead of his peers — and some adults — when it comes to math skills. But that’s not what makes this Poway boy so special.

When he was a year old, Ben was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a progressive genetic condition that causes severe muscle damage and debilitating weakness. He’s been quadriplegic and strapped to a wheelchair most of his life.

Because it’s difficult for Ben to hold pencil and write, he solves most math problems entirely in his head, visualizing the work and then explaining his process and answers to his mother, a teacher or test proctor. He writes poetry and studies the universe.

“Why do I love math? It’s not my favorite subject — I don’t have favorites. I like most things. From the beginning, I’ve always done math well. So, it’s my pride,” said Ben, whose mischievous smile somehow overshadows his trademark rainbow tie-dyed T-shirt and red eyeglasses.

Ben’s scores on the American Invitational Mathematics Examination 10 caught the eye of David Brown, who recruits mathematically minded students for the U.S. math team to compete in the annual World Math Team Championship.

Ben’s test results last year demonstrated his mastery of geometry, advanced algebra and trigonometry as a fifth-grader. His score of 138 (150 is the maximum) on the exam put Ben in the top one percent of test-takers, most of whom are high school students. Scores are used as a qualifier for the international math championship, and are considered by top universities — MIT and CalTech are among them — for admission.

“On his academic merits, Ben stood out as someone we wanted on our team,” said Brown, who is the director of the San Diego Math Circle. “When I heard his story, I thought, ‘my goodness this kid is remarkable.’”

Jenny Wong home-schools Ben from the family’s Poway house. But really, she said, “Ben teaches himself. He always gets things right away. He wants to be the best. He wants to learn about everything.”

To prepare for the math competition scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, Ben is doing what he usually does: Studying math — he’s particularly fond of word problems these days — and watching advanced lectures and tutorial videos online.

Students from across the country who made the U.S. math team have been assigned to three divisions based on their ages. They will compete with some 600 students from around the world to solve problems individually and cooperatively with their teammates in the prestigious competition.


Read more at the Source.

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