Wondering About the Whys

As parents, Karen and I spent little to no time wondering why Nate was hyperlexic. To us, it wasn’t relevant to the task at hand. We saw our job as getting as much out of Nate as possible, working with him every day to make sure he grew and improved.

Granted, not everyone approaches it that way. My own mother once said, “Not every parent would do what you are doing.” I was taken aback by that. Really? It just seemed obvious to me that wanting the best for Nate and doing whatever it took to better his lot was an automatic response. Maybe not for her, if she had been in the same situation.

The one response I find most appalling is this one: “It’s a blessing from God. He (or she) has made us better people.” I hear that about kids with physical or mental challenges and it drives me crazy. That’s not to say Nate being Nate doesn’t bring out the best in some people: their kindness, their generosity, their thoughtfulness. It would be equally false to say we are not different people for having Nate, certainly more tolerant, certainly with a perspective that having a “different” kid brings.

It also brings out the worst in some people. They shoot weird and hostile looks, or are clearly uncomfortable with his demeanor. We’ve always found out that Nate was a great people-barometer. If they’re turned off by him, they probably look at life a bit differently than we do.

But a “blessing?” For who? Not for Nate. To say being autistic is the preferred condition is ridiculous. And to have his life be a sacrifice to our, and others, self-improvement is a burden that he needn’t bear. Not a day goes by that I wish he weren’t hyperlexic. How much easier would his existence be if he didn’t struggle so, or be possessed by thoughts and obsessions he’s unable to control?

Nate used to say when we would sit down for the night’s homework, “I hate my brain.” It may be a quote from a TV show, or a comic book. I don’t know. That he said it was indicative of a growing self-awareness of his difficulties. Once, he heard someone refer to him as autistic.

“I’m NOT autistic, I’m authentic!” he countered.

Well, he’s both, but if being autistic is something he rejects, why would we, or anyone, tell him otherwise?


About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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One Response to Wondering About the Whys

  1. gr82chat says:

    Yep. Totally heard that ! Also another favourite of mine.. “oh he was definitely sent to the right parents. there is no way I could do what you do.” “He was sent to you because you can handle it”.. another favourite. Seriously, I wonder if people have a clue what they are saying at times. I know they mean well and are trying to give you some sort of weird compliment but what they think is help… isn’t. I learned very early in my journey to smile sweetly and say ‘thank you.’ I guess it’s the thought that counts right?

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