Kairan Quazi, one of Las Positas College's newer students, probably has a lot in common with his fellow, intellectually curious classmates. He loves to talk politics, he practically lights up when you mention gravitational forces and don't get him started on dystopian connections between George Orwell's "1984" and current events.
But the gregarious Pleasanton resident is very different in one other respect: he's 9 years old.
Kairan is what is known as profoundly gifted, meaning that his IQ is over 180, scoring him in the top 0.1% of the population. Fewer than one in a million people join him in this select group, and they come from all walks of life: profound giftedness is found worldwide, crossing nationality, race, class and linguistic barriers.
He began attending Las Positas this summer, at the recommendation of an educational therapist, and he will continue there on top of his normal school day at a Bay Area school for gifted children for the next three years.
So far, the other students in his college algebra class have taken well to his presence, and he feels he can participate like anyone else.
"I'm comfortable asking questions," Kairan said. "Because I feel that you can always learn more than you know, right?"
Kairan had been a student at the Quarry Lane School for the extent of his elementary school career. His parents were first told he was gifted at his 2-year-old pediatric appointment, said his mother Jullia Quazi, and they continued to be informed of his high intelligence level -- especially by teachers -- over the next several years. But they didn't pay attention to it, focusing instead on his socialization, she said.
"We've just pretty much ignored it, and just focused on the socialization and peer group dynamics," Jullia said.
At the same time, their parenting philosophy was to always answer his questions, and if they didn't know the answer, to look it up with him. With a child like Kairan, though, this can prove exhausting and overwhelming, starting pre-dawn with questions about Stormy Daniels and ending at bedtime with a debate on Crimea.
It wasn't always easy for Kairan in school either. He often got called out for talking out of turn, and he was easily frustrated by what he thought was too simplistic, even at Quarry Lane, a private school known for academic rigor.
He's the hit of all social gatherings, Jullia said -- friends and family call him "The Senator" because he comes in and immediately starts talking politics.
"It's charming for a three-hour party, right? When you're living with it for 12 hours a day every day ... it's really difficult," she said.
She and her husband continued to disregard his giftedness, at least in the classroom -- Kairan's extracurricular resume includes martial arts, Mandarin, piano and coding (he's proficient in 12 programming languages right now).
In third grade, however, Kairan's parents realized something had to change -- their happy child had turned sullen. He became disengaged, refused to participate in classroom activities and came home angry and frustrated.
So they finally capitulated to teachers' and pediatricians' suggestions, bringing him to the Summit Center, a site that specializes in working with gifted kids. There he was tested by Dr. Dan Peters, a psychologist and executive director of the center.
Peters said he couldn't comment specifically on Kairan's case, due to confidentiality rules, but in his experience treating a wide range of gifted children, he said frustration with traditional schooling is common.
"Think about an adult who is going to a job day after day, that's not stimulating, that is repetitive, and where the person is not able to pursue their goals and passions, that is not appreciated for what they can contribute," he said. "That adult will tend to maybe feel numb over time, start to get depressed, start to get anxious, not want to go to work. The very same thing happens to kids."
Per Peters' recommendation, Jullia said, Kairan will now be heading to Helios, a school in Sunnyvale that specializes in teaching gifted kids like him. The school caters to their learning needs, she said, offering more differentiation and Socratic-style debate, and allowing students to delve deeper into topics at their own pace.
They also decided to enroll him at Las Positas, with the hope that he could skip high school altogether and head straight to college. The enrollment process wasn't easy, as the admissions panel was somewhat skeptical about the 9-year-old's ability to handle the workload and structure of a college class, according to Jullia.
In particular, gifted students like Kairan often see "developmental asynchrony" between their intellectual or academic abilities and their basic "executive functioning," Peters said.
"So what we typically see with gifted individuals -- not all but especially with younger gifted individuals -- is you have advanced cognitive and/or academic abilities, but their executive functions, their organization, their time management, their ability to regulate their behavior and their emotions, often lags far behind," Peters said.
Kairan's executive functioning, though, is not low at all, Jullia said. And he won over the panel.
Paula Schoenecker, a Las Positas learning skills instructor, met with Kairan for an official measure of his executive functioning -- he "performed way beyond" her expectations, she said.
"I found Kairan to be a breath of fresh air," Schoenecker said. "He is easy to talk to and very interesting. I thought I would have to dummy down the text of the test questions, but not so. He fully knew what he was being asked at every level.
"It is great that we can help him with his educational experience," she added. "I believe forcing a student such as Kairan to follow the typical educational path would prove very destructive to his innate curiosity and would leave him bored and frustrated."
He's now pursuing associate degrees in math and chemistry at Las Positas. Someday, he said, he hopes to become a neurosurgeon astronaut.
"Would you like it if you had an astronaut who couldn't remember if he was going to Venus or Mars?" he asks. "There's a big difference -- if you go to Venus you'll probably die. If you go to Mars there's no atmosphere." Good point.
He's also part of Mensa and the Davidson Institute. Mensa is an international nonprofit, a high-IQ club for those whose score is in the top 98th percentile, while the Davidson Institute, based in Reno, Nev., is just for profoundly gifted people and offers many helpful resources, his mother said.
And community is important for students like him. Because though super-intelligence can seem singularly advantageous, it can nevertheless be a difficult and isolating path for a child -- and for a parent.
"Parents don't ask to have a child that doesn't fit into the mainstream," Peters said. "These types of kids require a different, more tailored education to help them grow in a healthy way."